Zhang Enli and the Garden

Zhang Enli The Gold Arowana 2017 Oil on canvas 250 x 250 cm / 98 3/8 x 98 3/8 in
Installation view, ‘Zhang Enli. The Garden,’ Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2018 © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Zhang Enli, The Broken Sofa, 2017. Oil on canvas, 220 x 180 cm / 86 5/8 x 70 7/8 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Installation view, ‘Zhang Enli. The Garden,’ Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2018 © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Zhang Enli, The Gold Arowana, 2017. Oil on canvas, 250 x 250 cm / 98 3/8 x 98 3/8 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Zhang Enli, Grey Parrot, 2017. Oil on canvas, 250 x 200 cm / 98 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
TOP
3682
27
0
 
22
Feb
22
Feb
CoBo Social Chinese Abstraction Series

For those most familiar with Zhang Enli’s work from his moody paintings of water hoses, buckets, empty cartons and anonymous rooms, the new paintings on view at Hauser and Wirth may be something of a shock. Departing from his traditional mode of depicting banal objects somewhat realistically, here the artist dives straight into abstraction, evoking moods rather than imagery.   Taken as a whole, the exhibition is both beautiful and haunting, conveying a range of emotions through expressive strokes of paint.

TEXT: Barbara Pollack
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Installation view, ‘Zhang Enli. The Garden,’ Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2018 © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

The heart of the exhibition are his suite of five paintings from 2017, all titled The Garden. Like Monet’s renditions of his garden at Giverny, Zhang Enli focuses on the patterns of shadow and light in rare bucolic corners of urban Shanghai where he lives and works. Instead of the brushstrokes of the master, Enli applies the paint and then scrapes away the markings with cloths and his hands, creating the sensation of recalling a place from memory rather than recording it in a photograph. But even without exact depictions of leaves, trees and flowers, the works communicate the passage of time from one season to the next. According to the artist, the blank spaces left by his erasures are intended to convey moments of ambiguity, allowing viewers to fill in the details, perhaps of their own garden. In any case, these paintings create a sense of place, an immersive environment, inviting the audience to enter.

 

Zhang Enli, The Broken Sofa, 2017. Oil on canvas, 220 x 180 cm / 86 5/8 x 70 7/8 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

In many ways, these paintings are most directly influenced by Enli’s most recent environments that he calls “space paintings.” Begun in 2007, these annual installations consist of full-scale frescoes covering the ceiling, floors and walls of a select site including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, India in 2012 and the ICA London in 2013. Often abstract, the artist alters perception and perspective with washes of paint in a wide variety of hues, making an ordinary room turn into a total visual experience.

Like these “space paintings,” many of the new paintings in Zhang Enli’s current show are equally environmental. The pair of 2017 paintings titled The Monochrome, Night (1) and The Monochrome, Night (2) thrust viewers into a landscape of Yves Klein blue with barely decipherable forms made of smears and washes.   The Classical Painting, 2017, is a blur of pigments reminiscent of Renaissance hues or an autumn forest seen from a moving vehicle.

 

Installation view, ‘Zhang Enli. The Garden,’ Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2018 © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Installation view, ‘Zhang Enli. The Garden,’ Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2018 © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

But the paintings that are the most effective are those most closely paralleling his earlier compositions In The Gold Arowana, 2017, a red swirl of converging lines perfectly capture the movements of a koi fish, swimming in a lime green pool. In Grey Parrot, 2017, a pale blue form is perched on a tangle of lines, reminiscent of the artist’s earlier depictions of hoses and wires and in The Skeleton, 2017,   Enli turns display of steel coils into a somber dissection of a fundamental structure. In these works, the washes are applied so thinly you can still see the pencil lines of a grid blocked out on the canvas, a signature device of the artist enabling him to balance the arrangement. The sheer application of paint and the prominent presence of empty space recall the restrained approach towards representation in classical Chinese painting. At the same time, the artist’s freewheeling relationship to reality is ultimately very contemporary.

 

Zhang Enli, The Gold Arowana, 2017. Oil on canvas, 250 x 250 cm / 98 3/8 x 98 3/8 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Grey Parrot, 2017 Oil on canvas 250 x 200 cm / 98 3/8 x 78 3/4 in © Zhang Enli Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth
Zhang Enli, Grey Parrot, 2017. Oil on canvas, 250 x 200 cm / 98 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. © Zhang Enli. Courtesy the Artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

In a conversation with Enli on the eve of his opening, he insisted that he would be disappointed if people thought of him as an abstract artist. He related that all of his works are rooted in reality, using memory as a way of extracting the essence of a visual experience, allowing extraneous details to fade into the background. Ever pushing himself to explore the frontiers of truth, rather than the limitations of veracity, Enli continues to convey the magnitude of the quotidian with a uniquely personal vocabulary. Even when he departs from his usual subject matter, or especially when he breaks his own rules, Zhang Enli can be seen as a formidable painter, complicating the history of abstraction as it is too often presented in the west.

 

 

Zhang Enli – The Garden
Hauser & Wirth
January 25 to April 7, 2018

 

 

Also check Zhang Enli’s KAF Documentary below. KAF Documentary is a collaboration project between K11 Art Foundation and New York-based 88 Rising which features 3 established Chinese artists including Zhang Enli, Liang Yuanwei and Zhao Yang to reveal Chinese artists’ unexplored chic in an all-new perspective.

(Courtesy of the Artist, K11 Art Foundation and ShanghART Gallery. Video Production by K11 Art Foundation, 88rising and Push Media.)

 

 

About the artist

Zhang Enli (simplified Chinese: 张恩利; traditional Chinese: 張恩利) was born 1965 in Jilin Province, China, is a professional artist living and working in Shanghai. He graduated from the Arts & Design Institute of Wuxi Technical University, China in 1989, and teaches at the Arts and Design Institute of Donghua University.

His paintings depict the familiar and overlooked, everyday objects connected through the artist’s immediate surroundings, often from unusual viewpoints or focusing on seemingly insignificant details. He produces works that invite universal interpretation. He often works in series, such as his paintings that focus on the idea of the container—cardboard boxes, ashtrays, tin chests and lavatories. Other works depict functional municipal structures that populate the streets of Shanghai, such as public toilets and tiled outdoor water features.

 

 


 

Barbara Pollack

Since 1994, Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times, the Village Voice, Art in America, Vanity Fair and of course, Artnews, among many others. She is the author of the book, The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists. In addition to writing, Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition, We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art, currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply