Zhang Huan - Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, February 14, 2013 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Haunch of Venison, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Upon returning to China after living in the United States, the Chinese artist Zhang Huan was struck with an epiphany which led to his creation of paintings from incense ash. Huan’s recent experience with Western society informed new perspectives on his own Eastern culture. Of this epiphany, Huan described the "magic" of prayer and the power of the incense ashes: "I realized that the burning ashes are not what they seem to be, they are our soul, our spirit, they are the memory and desire of a country" (Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors, video, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2012).

    The present lot, Xiao Lu, is a brilliantly executed ash portrait from 2007 of Huan’s studio assistant. While Huan also explores nature, history and recognizable fgures in his ash paintings, this work, with its unrivalled clarity and brilliance, reflects the close friendship of the artist with his subject. The conviction and sensitivity with which Huan has painted Xiao Lu is heightened by the symbolism of the material itself.

    The ash produced from burning incense is collected from twenty or so temples in Shanghai on a weekly basis and is brought to Huan’s studio in the Min Hang district to be sorted by colour gradation for his paintings and sculptures. Aside from the materiality of the ash itself, it carries with it an symbolic signifcance in Eastern cultures with its use in rituals to commemorate ancestors and venerate deities. For Huan, "these ash remains speak to the fulflment of millions of hopes, dreams and blessings" (the artist quoted in N. Miall, Zhang Huan: Ash, London: Haunch of Venison, 2007). Ash, as a material for painting, it maintains a metaphoric connection to memory, the soul and the spiritual. Past and present are synthesised with the use of ash as material and as contemporary subject matter. Huan inherently addresses the collective experience of Chinese identity with memory, spirituality and soul. In Huan’s words: "Everything we are, everything we believe and want are within these ashes" (Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors, video, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2012).


Xiao Lu

incense ash, charcoal and resin on canvas
150 x 100 cm (59 x 39 3/8 in)
Signed and dated 'Zhang Huan 2007' on the reverse.

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £51,650

Contemporary Art Day Sale

15 February 2013