- Zhao Bandi
- Pink Kiss
- oil on canvas
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Mention Zhao Bandi, and people reflexively think of the “Panda series,” an image that has been attached to Zhao since 1996, when Zhao experimented with using the panda as the subject of a series of artworks. Adopting the symbol of the panda, Zhao’s works have long since transcended the category of contemporary art and crossed over into other realms such as public service and film. The recognition that Zhao receives in association with the “Panda series” is so far-reaching that the public often forgets that, in the early 90s, Zhao emerged in the industry as a classical realist oil painter, the “Panda series” marking the end of his “classical period.” The few oil paintings of his that are in circulation today, then, are considered all the more rare. This body of Zhao’s oeuvre makes evident the artist’s possession of both self-awareness and intentionality in his creative process. The current work, Pink Kiss (Lot 6) , which was completed in 1996, undoubtedly marks a significant moment along the path of his creative exploration.
Zhao graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Studio No. 1 under the tutelage of Chinese realist oil painting master Jin Shangyi. The fundamentals of solid form and meticulous style were thus deeply ingrained in Zhao’s works from the very beginning. As he sees it, these are signature signs of a “classical sensibility.” Even early on, Zhao and his artwork were the focus of attention. His creations first appeared in Beijing in 1991, and although he employed classical techniques, he infused in them avant-garde elements that immediately received highly critical acclaim as well as the validation of the Western art world. In 1993, Zhao was the only Chinese realist painter to be featured in the German-sponsored Chinese Avant-Garde Exhibition Tour in Europe. At the time, Dutch curator and scholar Hans van Dijk stated that Zhao’s work “persuasively expressed the true feelings and experience of the individual, a quality lacking in Chinese art.” This type of acclaim both created opportunities for Zhao’s work to appear in international exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennale, as well as brought him to the attention of an increasing number of academic institutions.
Studying Pink Kiss, it is not difficult to understand the assessment made by van Dijk. In the painting, Zhao portrays the moment of a kiss shared by a young couple before Tiananmen Square. Their expressions of total immersion and intoxication as well as the details of the composition, the brushstrokes, and physical appearance of the subjects display the artist’s rigorous academic training and simple, natural form. Yet the painting diverges from that of traditional oil painting in terms of visual perspective. The couple is placed at the very periphery of the viewer’s gaze, while the pink-hued Tiananmen Square and portrait of Mao in the background emerge as the real subjects of the work, the iron fence between the couple and Tiananmen Square suggesting further estrangement. Tiananmen Square has been an important theme in a few of Zhao’s works, and the full, white skirt worn by the young woman points to another of Zhao’s works, Butterfly, recently sold by Sotheby’s at auction. Zhao describes this series as the most representative of all his works from the 90s, explaining, “the social events of that time deeply affected and moved me. Following Butterfly, I painted two more variations. This series of three was unprecedented, and I embedded in them the sadness of my formative years.” Exactly as van Dijk noted, Zhao had infused in his paintings the true feelings of the individual, and in this lay the essence of the avant-garde. Although superficially the image appears to be realist in style, what it contains far transcends the classical realism objective of accurate portrayal, as well as the social realist tendency to use art as an ideological tool, which has been dominant since the founding of the People’s Republic. In Pink Kiss, social events of the past are transformed into metaphor and are not so much the artist’s attempt at displaying these events but rather, the pain and anguish of the artist are condensed into a memorial of the event. Compared to the desolation and hopelessness of Butterfly, however, Pink Kiss from 1996 contains more tones of tenderness and romanticism, as if it declares the artist’s liberation from sadness and marks the beginnings of the his new, somewhat joking style that we see in the “Panda series.” Since then, Zhao has not picked up a paintbrush. Pink Kiss is thus his memorial to history as well as the final chapter of his “Classical period.”