Zhang Enli - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips

    “The way to understand painting is through memory and feeling. The most important thing is to feel life. It is not about culture itself, or explicit symbols.”
    — Zhang Enli

    A Confluence of Traditions


    Born in 1965 in Jilin, a province in Northeast China, Zhang Enli is considered a significant voice in Chinese contemporary art, adept at merging the fluid grace of traditional Chinese painting with the bold abstractions of contemporary art. His artistic journey reveals a deep engagement with the materiality of paint and the possibilities in abstraction to evoke emotions rather than to depict objects. The Water (3), painted in 2019, is a compelling embodiment of this exploration, showcasing Zhang's approach to the theme of water—an element deeply embedded in the symbols of Chinese culture and acts as a personal metaphor for the artist.


    This work forms a critical part of Zhang’s broader ‘Water’ series, through which he transcends literal interpretations and ventures into the abstract, inviting viewers to explore water not just as a physical substance but as a dynamic, life-giving force that flows through the collective human experience. In doing so, Zhang not only captures the physical fluidity of water, but also its symbolic association with change, purity, and the unconscious.



    A Luminous Complexity of The Water


    The Water (3) stands out in its intricate play of colour and form. Dominated by a palette of shades of greens, the painting evokes the serene yet powerful presence of water, captured in a deep pond. The canvas comes to life as an exuberant dance of movement unfolds across its surface —the strokes are broad, overlapping and infinitely varied, mimicking the ceaseless motion of water. This movement is not at all chaotic, but is incredibly rhythmic, much like the natural currents that guide rivers and streams.


    Zhang’s technique involves layering translucent and opaque paints to achieve a depth that suggests the endlessness of a body of water. These layers create a visual effect in which the boundaries between colours are simultaneously defined and diffused, mirroring the way water blends into the sky at the horizon or how ripples merge into one another. The brushwork, reflective of his Chinese painting background, emphasises the fluidity of his medium, allowing the paint to flow freely across the canvas, whilst controlling it enough to form compelling patterns and textures. The vastness of the canvas and water as an enduring subject was widely celebrated by literati painters, reminiscent of the Southern Song master Ma Yuan’s famous scroll Water.


    Ma Yuan, Water, ca. 1222, The Palace Museum, Beijing 

    The interaction of light and shadow in the present lot further enhances its dynamic quality. Zhang skilfully manipulates shading to give the illusion of light reflecting off of the water's surface, inviting the viewer to feel the visibility and obscurity that water naturally embodies. This technique not only deepens the visual impact of the painting but also invites the viewer to deeply contemplate what lies beneath the surface.



    Thematic Resonance


    At its core, Zhang’s work is an exploration of impermanence and fluidity. Water, in Zhang's abstraction, becomes a metaphor for life's transient moments and the nature of human emotions—ever-changing, elusive, and deep. This thematic choice resonates with the philosophical underpinnings of Chinese art, in which nature is often a conduit for deeper reflections on human life and its transient beauty.


    Zhang's choice to depict water—an element known for its capability to adapt and transform—mirrors his own artistic evolution. His artistic evolution from figurative painting to abstract expressionism is vividly captured in the fluidity of water depicted in the painting, defying any rigid attempts at definition or confinement. It flows beyond the confines of form and invites viewers to allow their perceptions to shift and change as they immerse themselves in the work.


    While deeply rooting his paintings in the aesthetics of Chinese art, Zhang readily explores themes of the global world. With an ability to capture the essence of everyday scenes through having a keen eye for detail and meticulous observation, he imbues his subjects with a sense of profound meaning and elevates his work to a realm of extraordinary beauty, making them universally accessible and poignant. By exploring mundane subjects with a heightened attention to detail, Zhang brings significance in the ordinary and indirectly invites viewers to contemplate larger themes of the passage of time, the transience of existence, and the interconnectedness of humanity.



    Collector’s Digest


    Based in Shanghai, Zhang Enli has held numerous solo exhibitions worldwide such as at the Long Museum, Chongqing, China; K11 Foundation, China; Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan; ICA Institute of Contemporary Art, London, UK; and more. His works are in the permanent collections of K11 Foundation, China; Tate London, UK; and more. He has had a solo exhibition with HEM He Art Museum in Guangdong, China. Featuring over 50 paintings and site-specific installations, the exhibition was held between 17 February –14 May 2023. Most recently, he has held a solo exhibition Faces at Hauser & Wirth in Hong Kong from 24 January to 9 March 2024.


    • Provenance

      Acquired directly form the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Changsha, Hunan Museum, 2022 Art Changsha - Zhang Enli, 12 November 2022 - 5 February 2023


The Water (3)

signed and dated 2013 Enli [in Chinese] lower right; further signed, titled, dated and inscribed '"The Water 2013, number 3" [in Chinese], 300 x 250 cm, 2013, Zhang Enli [in Chinese] on the reverse
oil on canvas
300 x 250 cm. (118 1/8 x 98 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,800,000 - 3,800,000 

Sold for HK$2,032,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024