S uperlatively iconic and consummately executed, Bloodline - The Big Family No. 1 1997 is the first Bloodline work by Zhang Xiaogang from 1997 – the year in which Zhang's paradigmatic Bloodline visual lexicon reached full maturity in terms of both style and technique. Zhang Xiaogang’s era-defining Bloodline series is a visual encapsulation of the inescapability of familial and socio-political ties that bind people together.

Exhibited and critically acclaimed in many important international art festivals, most notably the Sao Pãulo Biennial and the Venice Biennale, the series was initially inspired by old family photographs from the Cultural Revolution. Intrigued by the stiff dispositions and facial demeanours within these photographs, the artist documents the scarred memories of his previous generations with his wholly unique visual language – one inspired by photo-realism as well as magical realism and which engages poignantly with collective national memory and Chinese identity. The series began in 1993; after a few years of development, Zhang’s aesthetic evolved from his previous expressionist style towards a unique surrealist vision – one which solidified the series’ idiosyncratic theme of national memory.

Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, 1995, oil on canvas Sotheby's Hong Kong, April 5, 2014, sold for HK$ 94,200,000 (US$12,144,809), 張曉剛,《血緣:大家庭3號》,1995年作,香港蘇富比,2014年4月5日,成交價:94,200,000 港元(12,144,809 美元)

Zhang commenced his seminal Bloodline series in the summer of 1993 in Kunming. The immediate prototypes of these works are formal group photographic portraits from the 1950s and 1960s, including those of Zhang’s own family. From these old black-and-white pictures, Zhang derived the series’ most defining features: a subdued, nearly monochromatic palette; a thickly layered but flat surface without overt evidence of brushwork; a general compositional restriction to upper bodies; the rigid and frontal poses and faces; and of course the Mao-era hairstyles and dress. The off-color passages, first introduced as patches of light on the faces, later became independent surface elements that recall vintage and damaged photographs. Rooted in the primordial importance of the concept of family in Chinese culture, the series’ origin in the genre of the family portrait evokes extraordinary resonance and compelling psychological power. The critic Johnson Chang has written, “Through the Chinese tradition of portraiture, Zhang has drawn upon the classical iconography of ancestor portraiture of which every Chinese would have vague collective memory of” (Johnson Chang, “Between Reality and Illusion,” in Diancang, p. 168). Likewise, for Li Xianting, “The legacy of Confucian ethics takes visual form in the common Chinese family’s ‘family group’ photographs. The technique of formal retouching, the classical upright pose of the figures, the rigidly set social order: all reveal the enduring power of the blood relationship” (Marcello Kwan and Nathalie Prat-Couadau (eds.), Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings By Zhang Xiaogang, Paris and Hong Kong, 2004, p. 37).

Zhang Xiaogang, Big Family, 1996 oil on linen, Collection SFMOMA Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, fractional and promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Zhang Xiaogang, 張曉剛,《大家庭》,1996年作,油彩亞麻布,三藩市現代藝術博物館 Vicki 與 Kent Logan 伉儷收藏,Logan 伉儷承諾將此作贈予SFMOMA,唯保留部分擁有權
Zhang Xiaogang in his studio, 1997 Image courtesy of Hanart TZ Gallery, 張曉剛在工作室,1997年。圖片鳴謝:漢雅軒

As the series progressed and matured, Zhang’s works achieved increasingly a signature aesthetic. The facial features, lit from the right without exception, exhibit faded contours in a diffused chiaroscuro to merge dreamily with the grey backgrounds. The watery eyes hint at traumatic memories beneath the dazed and blank faces, pointing to history as well as interiority - Zhang’s own emotional investment in his subjects.

Conversely, the eyes - the gate to the subject’s soul in traditional portraits and religious icons alike - are unrealistically jet-black and oversized, and being invariably unfocused or directed off-axis, they remain spiritually vacant. The translucency is achieved through numerous virtuously applied layers achieving an air of detachment, as well as a distinct luminosity.

Zhang Xiaogang, My Ideal, 2008, oil on canvas, 5 bronze sculptures canvas: 270 by 500 cm; sculptures with variable dimensions © Zhang Xiaogang, courtesy of Pace Gallery, 張曉剛,《我的希望》,2008年作,油彩畫布及五尊青銅雕塑,畫布:270 x 500 米,雕塑尺寸不一。圖片版權所有:© Zhang Xiaogang, courtesy of Pace Gallery

With solemn, quietly unsettling and icy cold exteriors, Zhang’s portraits unravel hidden tensions in politics and history. Stemming from Zhang Xiaogang’s personal preoccupation with the memory of his family, the iconic Big Family series gives voice to his generation’s collective traumas and dreams, illusions and disillusions. It does so not by any direct “representation” of the past, but rather by enacting in painting the uncanny ambivalences between self and other, between self and collective, and even between self and self. A superlative painting from Zhang's most prominent series, Bloodline - The Big Family No. 1 1997 encapsulates the artist's paramount position in Chinese art history.

Precursors to Bloodline - Big Family | 《血緣:大家庭》的前身
  • 1980s
  • 1980s
  • 1992
  • 1993
  • 1994-1995
  • Forever Lasting Love (Triptych), 1988, Sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2011 for 79,060,000 HKD (10,161,582 USD)
    《生生息息之愛(三聯作)》,1988年作, 2011年於香港蘇富比拍賣,出售價 79,060,000港幣(10,200,000美元)
  • The Dark Trilogy (Triptych), 1989, Sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2020 for 54,920,000 HKD (7,086,543 USD)
    《黑色三部曲(三聯作)》,1989年作,2020年於香港蘇富比拍賣,出售價54,920,000 港幣(7,086,543美元)
  • Chapter of a New Century - Birth of the People’s Republic of China I, 1992, Sold by Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for 3,065,000 USD
    《創世篇:一個共和國的誕生1號》,1992年作,2007年於紐約蘇富比拍賣,出售價 3,065,000美元
  • (Left to Right) Top: Portrait in Red (Mao Xuhui) , Portrait in Yellow (Ye Yongqing) , Bottom: Girl, Youth, Transexual (Chan Weimin)
    (左至右)上:《 紅色肖像》,《黃色肖像》,《女孩》,下:《青年》,《變性者》
  • Bloodine Series The Big Family No.2, Sold in 2020 for 98,035,000 HKD (12,646,903 USD)
    《血緣:大家庭2號》,出售價 98,035,000港幣 (12,646,903美元) 拍賣紀錄

《血緣:大家庭1號 1997》屬於殿堂級經典,技巧風格運用嫻熟,作品畫於一九九七年,亦即張曉剛《血緣》系列在風格和技術方面達到完全成熟的一年。《血緣》系列具有劃時代意義,曾在不少重要的國際藝術節上亮相,其中包括聖保羅雙年展和威尼斯雙年展,作品反映家譜世系與社會政治將人與人緊密地聯繫起來,同時卻讓人無法逃離。藝術家以文化大革命時期的家庭老照片為藍本,透過深受攝影現實和魔幻現實主義啟發的獨特視覺語彙,記錄上一代人傷痕滿佈的過往,帶出沉重的集體國民記憶和中國國民身份。《血緣》系列誕生自一九九三年,經過多年的探索,直至一九九七年,張終於找到他建基於超現實主義的美學風格,告別之前具表現主義的色彩,與民族記憶主題更為契合,奠下此系列的基調。《血緣:大家庭1號 1997》除了是風格的奠基之作,更採用了系列中最知名的三人家庭構圖,題材上,張曉剛罕有地以女孩入題,而頸繫少年先鋒隊的紅領巾,更為作品賦予歷史意義與暗喻,可見此作盡見《血緣︰大家庭》的精髓。