Zhang paints as a way to record his and China’s past

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Zhang paints as a way to record his and China’s past

Chinese contemporary painter Zhang Xiaogang produces paintings based on his memories as a way to record his own past. Zhang is one of the most influential Chinese contemporary artists, and a painting by him fetched more than $1 million at auction this year.

Zhang’s first solo exhibition in Korea, “Amnesia and Memory,” is at Gallery Artside in Insa-dong, Seoul, until Nov. 20.
Zhang said the title “Amnesia and Memory” illustrates the conflict between trying to remember the past and accepting new thoughts by forgetting the past.
“Our life consists of memories and oblivion,” he said. “Trying to adapt, people forget. Otherwise, it is difficult to adapt.”
Zhang said that a red line and spot prevalent in his paintings are “a connection between people and between people and society.”
He often highlights faces and objects in his work. “It shows the passage of time and the traces of effects of external factors on people’s lives,” he said. “I put emphasis on the effects of memory on people. My paintings contain the images of people and landscapes filtered through memory rather than realistic figures.”
Born in Kunming, Yunnan province, in 1958, Zhang experienced China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) during his adolescence and the nation’s opening as an adult, and his paintings depict the turbulent changes in modern Chinese society. He attended the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongqing, Sichuan province, and became a major Sichuan style painter. Differing from the more political Beijing style, Zhang’s paintings are more surreal and subtly psychological.

“With globalization, everything from food to clothing is similar to each other. Because of that, one feels that memories of the past are more important,” Zhang said. “China, in particular, is changing very fast. People’s memories are being destroyed. In a rapidly changing society, I want to reflect people’s state of mind.”
“People are living a life of contradiction. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether it is progress or destruction,” he added. “Streets I walked on three months ago are gone, and the places where I grew up have disappeared.”
Zhang’s work has been shown at the 46th Venice Biennale in Italy and the Gwangju Biennale in Korea In 1995. His art featured at Gallery Artside in 2003, along with work by two other renowned Chinese contemporary painters, Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun.
In March, Zhang’s 1998 “Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120,” sold for $979,200 during the Contemporary Art Asia sale in New York. Most recently, a “Big Family” series painting (1995) sold for $1.4 million at Christie’s in London on Oct. 15.

Gallery Artside is located in Insa-dong and can be reached from Jonggak station, line No. 1, exit 3. Admission costs 3,000 won ($3.25). The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. For information, call (02) 725-1020 or visit www.artside.net.

by Limb Jae-un
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