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  • Provenance

    ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai

  • Catalogue Essay

    On the occasion of Zeng Fanzhi's recent solo exhibition, Idealism, at the Singapore Art Museum, Lóránd Hegyi writes:
    "Zeng Fanzhi's paintings offer a permanent, pathos-less, natural, unassuming, fundamental resistance – not loudly declared, but quietly asserted in the daily practice of his art – against simplistic, reductive, one-sided, easily found classifications, above all against formal rules of style and conventional forms of communication, against historically formed, traditional sign systems that are irrelevant outside of their own context and which characterise certain artistic elements and methodological processes. His ephemeral, fluid, flexible referentiality is the fabric of his work." (L. Hegyi, ‘The Visual Epos of Zeng Fanzhi‘ in Idealism, Singapore 2007).
    The present lot is a rare self-portrait from the Untitled (Night) series, in which the artist often paints with multiple brushes in each hand to create an untamed harmony of colors. Critics have widely applauded Zeng's artistic progression in this series beyond conventional painting to incorporate further experimentation, to the point where the grasses are both reminiscent of Chinese calligraphic strokes and a play on pure abstraction. In this series, Zeng's characters are set asunder in darkly magical grass-scapes, wandering amid moonlit reeds and occasional bodies of water. The viewer experiences both wonder and anxiety: while there is a sense of liberation from the intricate composition and oppressive social dynamics of Zeng's earlier Hospital and Mask series, what happens to these subjects when left to their own devices?
    Part of the Untitled (Night) series' beauty lies in the artist's willingness to leave them wandering and hence the ending open, at least for now. The grasses represent, loosely, the expanding horizons of artistic experimentation and philosophical openness – in particular, Zeng's movement towards a freer, more expressionist painting style that merges abstraction with figuration. This metaphorical fluidity is also true of his human subjects, which include lone or paired anonymous subjects, Mao, Warhol, and Zeng Fanzhi himself– unlike the artist's previous Hospital and Mask series that were grounded in reality, the figures of Untitled (Night) exist almost as eternal allegories that dot our collective dream landscape:
    "In the experimental process, the subjects of the paintings include both people and landscape. Very quickly, the artist began to place people with landscapes, and instinctively believed that people were a part of nature, just as the ancients had taught us. The lessons of the ancients had not been heard for a long time – creating a noble feeling that was both demoded and superior,,, Zeng Fanzhi's aspiration to be an important artist led him to include art icons like Warhol in his grassy landscapes – this American pushed his bike and walked on the narrow village lanes of China, and even on the path that Zeng himself had taken – it was this Chinese artist's wish to meet with the master in a relaxed and familiar environment." (P. Lu, ‘Story of a State of Mind – The Art of Zeng Fanzhi' in The Paintings of Zeng Fanzhi, Shanghai 2006, p. 14)
    In contrast to other siren-like fields that threaten to swallow up their subjects, this work is notable for its clear cast of light and open path in the foreground, as well as the subject's direct gaze upon the viewer. It is refreshing that the artist, renowned for intense psychological portraiture, is content to depict himself in such an open and unfettered manner. Self-portraits are frequently complex affairs, but this one proves a happy exception.

236

Self-Portrait (Stroller)

2006
Oil on canvas.
215 x 330.5 cm. (84 5/8 x 130 1/8 in).
Signed and dated ‘Zeng Fanzhi 2006' lower right.

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 ≠ †

Sold for £505,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm
London