Zhang Enli (b.1965)
China Guardian HK 2016 Autumn Auctions
20th Century and Contemporary Chinese Art
170 x 140 cm
People's Republic of China (1949-)Estimate:
Painted in 1996;Oil on Canvas;Signed in Pinyin "ENLI" and dated on lower right; signed in Chinese and dated on the reverse;Provenance:Private Collection, Europe.ZHANG ENLI(b.1965)‘I walk in isolation, yet I have not lost my own focal point.’Zhang En-liAs the only Chinese artist represented by the world renowned Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Zhang En-li did not exactly became famous overnight. In fact, it took him more than 10 years to gain his fame worldwide as a contemporary artist, his works being acquired by Tate Modern, London. There has been no shortcut or legend, but only perseverance. In the restless contemporary art scene, Zhang stuck to his beliefs in painting, and kept exploring the artistic language in spite of his difficult situation.Zhang’s works are regarded as a symbol of modern art’s mind experiment. He expresses the utmost humanity in social behaviour and minds with his expressionist vocabulary, and expands the context of reality of the ‘Chinese semantic field’ with his individual artistic mind. No matter it is a portrait or still life, all of Zhang’s works have a flair of isolation, just like the painter himself looking at the viewer, showing a philosophy of self-examination in the art.The Feeling of No FeelingZhang has also loved painting. After graduating in 1989, he moved to Shanghai. This freed himself from the constraint of academic style. Zhang created with strong brushes, and set up a distinguished style of neo-expressionism in early 1990s. During 1980s, Zhang was inspired by Nietzsche’s, Schopenhauer’s and Sartre’s depiction of their characters’ delicate feelings. He was also impacted by the discrepancy between idealism and real political environment, so that he started focusing on the nobodies around him, observing their life and his own. In his humble studio in Shanghai, he let out his feelings of distress and restlessness on his canvas, in a kind of Edvard Munch way of ‘scream’.Portrait was Zhang’s focus from 1990 to 2000, the majority of them being the middle-lower class and grassroots. He observed and expressed people’s emotions and lives, their confusions and frustrations, at the same time demonstrating their perseverance, wisdom and humour. His works during this period have become classics of Zhang’s artistic career, such as Two Kilo of Beef and Bar, which set up images of the monumental little people’s struggling city life, showing their restlessness and strength. These works are also representation of Zhang’s self-exploration. The dark imageries he created are associated to German expressionist artist Max Beckmann’s works - reality is combined with imagination, resulting in absurd yet real imageries. Assuredly and self-reflectively, the artist amplified the irony he saw and turned it into monologues on his canvas. Behind the reality with seemingly ‘no feeling’ is the artist’s strong empathy.Resolving the problem of ‘no solution’Created in 1996, No Solution has been kept by an overseas collector for years until presently. It is one of Zhang’s representative works in his early career, capturing the split second when a nobody is looking for a solution but in vain. The coarse lines, grimy background, cigarette on the hand, as well as the apalled look with the slightly open mouth and half-closed eyes, are all signature symbols of Zhang’s early works, making the piece a classic of the period. Through the isolated tone of neo-expressionism, Zhang presented the rashness of people in the city during a time of social changes in 1990s, as well as their wish to resolve the problem of ‘no solution’.‘These people just appear in front of you like that. I did not vilify them on purpose. I just saw them that way.’ From the painting, one can easily feel the bitter state the painter was in, as well as his attempt to inject a jesting humour into the agonising scene. The sense of isolation makes Zhang an observer in life, who explains his understanding and feeling towards art with the depiction of people and things around him. The cold face and the sturdy body in No Solution are not only moving, but also serve as a wordless opposition to the state of life. Through the grotesque presentation of the grassroots, Zhang outlines a liveliness despite the suffocating life, creating a way out of the problem of ‘no solution’.‘Tranquliity comes from rumination and pricking pain.’Zhang En-liIn 2000, after creating works for more than a decade in the modern, international city of Shanghai, the middle-aged Zhang held his first solo exhibition in ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai. With all the changes in life and his art career, Zhang changed his subjects from people to the relative calmer everyday objects. The paintings seems simple and tranquil, while conveying cold emotions and ideas of isolation and the state of ‘no solution’. If at first he had a strong passion for feeling of ‘no feeling’, then he might as well have a strong intention to resolve the problem of ‘no solution’. After all the ups and downs, Zhang’s attempt to feel the ‘no feeling’ and resolve the problem of ‘no solution’ has been boiled down to an essence life in his increasingly tranquil composition, resulting in his international artistic values which transcends territory, race, language and customs.The greatest enemy of the mind is the conclusion, and ‘tranquliity comes from rumination and pricking pain’. No Solution shows the mind and life experience of Zhang’s early artistic life. Looking at it more than 20 years later, one realises that all the life encounters and style changes have originated from a mind that has never changed, a mind that has persevered in art.