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Zhang Xiaogang

Chinese  •  b. 1958

Biography

Relying on memory and inspired by family portraits from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zhang Xiaogang creates surreal, subtle artworks that explore the notion of identity in relation to the Chinese culture of collectivism. Using a muted, greyscale palette, Xiaogang repeatedly depicts a series of unnervingly similar figures, often dressed in identical Mao suits, to create an endless genealogy of imagined forebears and progenitors. Their somber, melancholy gazes are interrupted only by thin red bloodlines intimating familial links as well as occasional pale splotches of color resembling birthmarks.

Xiaogang investigates how to express individual histories within the strict confines of a formula. His sitters, while appearing muted and compliant, are given physical exaggerations: oversized heads, tiny hands and long noses. These distortions imply stifled emotions and give a complex psychological dimension to the artist's work.

Insights

  • Xiaogang was born in the Chinese province of Sichuan in 1958 and was an early progenitor of the "Sichuan School" of painters.

  • The artist's 'Bloodlines' and 'Amnesia and Memory' series invoke traditional forms of twentieth-century Chinese studio portraiture undercut with harrowing and subtle symbolism.

  • In our inaugural 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale in Hong Kong, Phillips sold Amnesia and Memory (One Week), an example from the artist's 'Amnesia and Memory' series exploring quotidian objects and motifs, for HK$6,680,000.

"I don't want to plant a forest, but a single tree...I really have just one strand of thought and I dig deeper and deeper until I can't go any farther."

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