Zeng Fanzhi - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    F2 Gallery, Beijing

  • Catalogue Essay

    A sense of mystery dwells within Zeng Fanzhi’s abstract landscapes of often desolate, dark and intensely lonely compositions. The foreground is dominated by an array of chaotic branches and thorns; this organic matter denies a simple reading of this piece as we attempt to pick our way through the dense, interlocking undergrowth. In the present lot, Landscape (Flames), 2006, what lurks behind the bristles is a brimming fire of red, pink and yellow hues, casting a golden light over the thorny branches. Fire gives and takes life in almost equal measure, symbolising a welcome respite from the enclosing night or a nearing danger. Zeng refuses to choose, abandoning the viewer in a realm of uncertain anxiety as we peer into the scene from our hiding place.

    Through this ambiguity Zeng plays with the notion of miao wu (marvellous revelation) which for him 'constitutes a restless journey of discovery.' Zeng explains his pieces are 'not real landscapes' but instead depict the unseen world, the world that lies beneath our preconceived notions, taking us on a journey into his imagination. In this respect he finds himself in a long lineage of Chinese landscape painters, a direct descendent of those from the Yuan period, who recognised that 'painting was no longer about the description of the visible world' but rather 'a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.' It is tempting when viewing an artist’s work to suggest that their aforementioned inner landscape is of an inherently political bent, drawing upon their homeland’s turbulent history, though this is often denied by the artists themselves. Pablo Picasso once said that he didn’t paint communist paintings in the same way that if he were a cobbler he wouldn’t hammer communist shoes, though he undoubtedly did entertain a political standpoint in some of his work, perhaps most obviously Guernica. Zeng has often dealt with his surrounding political backdrop, perhaps most notably in his works that depict Mao or his Mask and Hospital series. He explains that he never consciously embraces the political; 'I grew up in the environment of the Cultural Revolution and all these ideologies take a lot of space in my mind, but when I paint I just want to portray my inner feelings and the people around me. I’ve never been interested in my art becoming symbols of political ideas.' When one looks past this pigeonholing it becomes apparent that Zeng is part of a history of expressionism, and in particular the German painters. By moving away from the moribund, state sanctioned, slavish attempts to depict an accurate reflection of life, landscape artists such as Heckel, Kokoshka and Kirchner attempted to express the world through an invigorating palette and a move towards greater abstraction, speaking to their audiences with a renewed frankness. Shifting from pure representation is a conscious effort for Zeng, creating wonderfully mysterious canvases of intense vitality and resounding intrigue.


Landscape (Flames)

oil on canvas
150 x 110 cm (59 x 43 1/4 in.)
Signed and dated in English and Chinese 'Zeng Fanzhi 2006' lower right.

£220,000 - 280,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm