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  • Provenance

    Private collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born in 1958, Zhang Xiaogang experienced the Cultural Revolution during his childhood and adolescence, before entering the prestigious Sichuan Fine Arts Institute where he absorbed various artistic styles, notably Twentieth Century Expressionist painting. Through the late 1980s into the early 1990s, Zhang’s technique was constantly evolving. He developed a unique style, a ghostly and sombre palette, to represent human faces and figures.
    The present lot belongs to a theme called the Bloodline Series, which is a series of family, group and individual portraits, inspired from the days of the Cultural Revolution, when stereotypical pictures of the ‘happy family’
    decorated all Chinese homes. Posed and still, after the fashion of an old studio photograph, this portrait of a young androgynous child appears isolated in its own emotional universe. The subject stares intently at the viewer, expressing a deep sense of sorrow and despair. Lips apart as if about to speak or cry, eyes appearing glazed and almost tearful, one is drawn closer to the image, compelled to console and comfort the young person. The serene, smooth almost illusionistic quality of the painting is reminiscent of painters such as Gerhard Richter, who deals with modern imagery and content and strives to capture the fleeting moment, to encapsulate stillness and rigidity.
    In the foreground, barely visible are two thin red lines with no apparent entrance or exit on the figure’s skin. The light red smear on the cheek suggests some kind of bodily imprint or unknown flaw, a genetic disorder or imperfection, perhaps the imprint of pain left on the artist’s memory. These linear traces and colour patches are a metaphor for invisible connections between person’s unknown or even genetic relations. Zhang was obsessed
    with the theory of genetics and hereditary diseases, after his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia very late in her life, and by that time he was severely traumatized by her condition, battling fears of genetic flaws and disability that he might also be carrying.
    The dispassionate face looms towards the viewer, almost filling up the entire canvas; the tragic yet hopeful expression is a symbolic code for China’s recent history, after enduring and overcoming the Cultural Revolution and now embracing Westernisation and capitalism. Zhang Xiaogang reminds us that in the fast changing society of modern China, economic and cultural progress should not come at the loss of individuality and national identity. Zhang’s entire artistic oeuvre is an embodiment of the personal and collective experience, and the powerful forces of memory that acts as a catalyst to inspire narratives.

  • Artist Biography

    Zhang Xiaogang

    Chinese • 1958

    Relying on memory and inspired by family portraits from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zhang Xiaogang creates surreal, subtle artworks that explore the notion of identity in relation to the Chinese culture of collectivism. Using a muted, greyscale palette, Xiaogang repeatedly depicts a series of unnervingly similar figures, often dressed in identical Mao suits, to create an endless genealogy of imagined forebears and progenitors. Their somber, melancholy gazes are interrupted only by thin red bloodlines intimating familial links as well as occasional pale splotches of color resembling birthmarks.

    Xiaogang investigates how to express individual histories within the strict confines of a formula. His sitters, while appearing muted and compliant, are given physical exaggerations: oversized heads, tiny hands and long noses. These distortions imply stifled emotions and give a complex psychological dimension to the artist's work.

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Bloodline Series: A Boy

Oil on canvas.
109.2 x 129.5 cm. (43 x 51 in).
Signed and dated 'Zhang Xiaogang 2002' [in Chinese] lower right.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

18 Oct 2008, 7pm