Zeng Fanzhi - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection
    Est-Ouest Auctions, Hong Kong, 25 November 2008, lot 218
    Private Collection
    Seoul Auction, Hong Kong, 3 April 2012, lot 22
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    While training at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s, Zeng Fanzhi was trained in a Soviet Socialist, Realist style, despite the artist’s personal inclination towards Expressionism, which he studied arduously in secret. Turning to Western Expressionist masters such as Jean Dubuffet or Willem de Kooning—the latter of which hugely impacted Zeng’s later expressive brushstrokes—the young artist produced portraits of his friends, painted in a manner starkly different than that which he was instructed. It was also during this defiant turning point in style that Zeng lived near a hospital, where he witnessed throngs of patients being brought into and out of emergency care. These scenes gave way to his seminal Hospital and Meat series, which were filled with gaunt figures and sanguineous bodies. Shocking though these were, these early pieces prefigured Zeng’s later works, and gave birth to a signature style that gradually became the artist’s early icons: morbidly engorged hands, mangled and bloated figures, unblinking glares, and bright, crimson flesh.

    Zeng Fanzhi moved to Beijing in 1993, and his relocation to the sprawling metropolis drastically affected him. The artist grappled with the unfamiliarity of the new city, and was startled by his daily interactions with strangers: ‘In the mid-’90s, China was transforming very fast…Chinese officials started wearing suits and ties…Everybody wanted to look good, but it also looked a bit fake.’ (Zeng Fanzhi, quoted in Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, 'Zeng Fanzhi: Amid change, the Art of Isolation', New York Times, May 3, 2007) Incredulous to the 'fake' personalities around him, Zeng painted face masks onto the figures in his paintings as metaphors for their duplicity: ‘I felt they wanted to change themselves on the surface, and these are the feelings that I represented in the earlier Mask series. Later on, the series used more vibrant colors; I think it makes people look even more fake, as if they are posing on a stage.’ (Ibid.)

    Trauma, painted in 2007, is a piece that departs from the Hospital, Meat, and Mask series, but is a work that aptly captures the thematic and stylistic concerns of all three of these eminent bodies of work. Trauma greets the viewer with a towering figure in a vibrant blue suit, who stares seemingly nonchalantly into the distance; and yet, his enlarged hands and quivering pink flesh perhaps betray an underlying terseness or nervousness. The man’s smeared face—a departure from the Mask works but nonetheless still a veil—partially conceals the figure’s features, and is deliberately discomforting, offering us no respite from the work’s titular trauma. During the 2000s, Zeng experimented with a new technique of dragging a palette knife across his canvases, creating patterns similar to traditional Chinese brushwork. This evocation of traditional Chinese paintings can be seen in the smeared face of the figure, as well as in the unknown shape to the figure’s left, recalling at once a Chinese literati rock, or a lattice structure of sorts. These unknown calligraphic markings cup the figure’s lower body, as if blending into him, and serve as much as a background as a direct correlation to gashes or wounds themselves—fittingly corresponding with the work’s title, as well as Zeng’s previous series. Entitled Trauma, the work boldly captures Zeng’s preoccupations with the frailty of the human condition, and is a spectacular piece that is the culmination of almost two decades of the artist’s artistic development.

Property of an Important European Collector



signed and dated 'Zeng Fanzhi 2007 [in Chinese]' lower right
oil on canvas
220.4 x 150 cm. (86 3/4 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2007.

HK$6,200,000 - 9,500,000 

Sold for HK$6,680,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 27 November 2016