Zhang Enli, Dessert Chef, 2021. Oil on canvas, 300x380cm. Collection of He Art Museum.
Zhang Enli's artistic practice can be understood as a kind of epistemological self-outreach, where the boundaries of external objects, inner tensions and paradigms of consciousness are always whispered in the concealment of his works. The inner self is revealed without fear: the way in which one perceive life in the present society, the way in which life is grounded, how they interpret each other, intermingle and dissolve each other. In this way, "Portrait" becomes a two-way mirror, with one side facing the self and the other facing the world.
Leaving behind the bodily harshness of the portraits of the 1990s, objects, containers and cords have become the main subjects of his concern in the first decade of the new century. The mood of the painting is now gentler and more subtle, and the details of urban life has coincidentally become the main character in his work: a bucket, a wardrobe, a piece of leather rope or a corner of floor tile, the fleeting emotions are transformed into infinite dramatic tension. Later, when the “container” of the early years is transformed into the shape of space and the “rope and tube” into the texture of space, the birth of his “space painting” is simultaneously achieved.
Zhang Enli, Bucket 1, 2007. Oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm.
When the figurative subjects being depicted in an abstract manner, it is as if the artist is moving from an empty reflection to a plotted narrative. The reverie that tends towards stream of consciousness does not come from historical exploration or technical necessity, but from the real feelings that occur in the self. The chef, the swordsman, the landlord and the doctor all has been turned to a new epistemology, a subconscious character analysis that is also the reality in the artist's spirit.
The exhibition will present over 50 paintings and site-specific installations of Zhang Enli's recent work at He Art Museum, in the space of lines, the space of objects and the space of abstract figures respectively. The double-helix staircase of the museum seems to be in the artist's two-way mirror, where the chaotic self and the world are entwined and gazing at each other, before climbing up the stairs.
About the Artist
Using the outside world as a mirror, Zhang Enli documents the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life. He regularly works with everyday objects that he is instinctively drawn to, for example a piece of string, a hose, or even a marble ball from the floor of his studio. Zhang Enli often magnifies his subjects until a specific fragment of a scene is depicted, as if enlarged through the viewfinder of a camera. This technique is especially present in recent abstract works such as ‘The Garden,’ 2017.
Within his figurative works, the perspective of each painting is often skewed to heighten the drama of the object’s shape, or to enlarge its importance. Zhang Enli’s expressive lines and curves are influenced by traditional Chinese brush painting, but are always underpinned by the structure of his pencil-drawn grids. The muted tones and loose washes of paint make the objects seem removed, as if occupying a liminal reality where only the essence of the object is portrayed on the canvas.
In his series of installations, known as Space Paintings, Zhang Enli paints directly onto the walls of a room to create immersive, nostalgic environments. These range from the abstract, where color and gesture recall sights and sounds of a particular place, to more figurative reproductions. The scale, and the lack of a traditional frame, alters the relationship between viewer and work, demanding the viewer retraces the steps of the artist and relives his experience of this physical space.
About the Exhibition
Dates: 2023.2.17 - 5.14
Venue: He Art Museum
Address: No.6 Yixing Rd., Beijiao, Shunde, Foshan, Guangdong, P.R.C.
Courtesy of He Art Museum and Hauser & Wirth.