- Zeng Fanzhi
- This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 (diptych)
- oil on canvas
- overall: 250 by 500 cm.; 98 3/8 by 196 7/8 in.
Acquired by the present owner from the above
China, Beijing, International Cultural & Creative Industry Expo and the 3rd China Songzhuang Culture & Art Festival, 8 - 20 November, 2007
Zeng Fanzhi, England, London Gagosian Gallery, 2012, p. 33
Zeng Fanzhi: Every Mark Its Mask, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Germany, 2010, pp. 162-163
Zeng Fanzhi, Les Musee de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France, 2013, p. 46
Among the Twines
Zeng Fanzhi, the world renowned “Mask Artist”, is an individual whose prominence needs next to no introduction. With countless global exhibitions and worldwide acclaim, Zeng’s reputation is unparalleled in the world of Contemporary Chinese Art. From his first sanguineous Hospital and Meat series, to the later famed Mask paintings, Zeng has commanded international attention for his various artworks: at once for their Expressionist allure, as well as for their refined execution. At the turn of the millennium, Zeng looked to new horizons, developing a radical new approach in his art, one which would continue for more than a decade. This shift focused on expression in lines, investigating the notion of fluidity and form. One significant and rare series in this period was the This Land So Rich In Beauty works, a fervent exploration on Zeng’s part into landscape depiction. Zeng’s deft amalgamation of Eastern and Western components can be seen in works such as the present diptych This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 (Lot 149), where the artist successfully marries the influences of traditional guohua, shanshui hua, and shoujuan hua, with the likes of celebrated American artist Jackson Pollock, culminating in a truly unique, cross-cultural piece that serves as an apt metaphor for Zeng’s international repute.
A mini-series in its own right, the This Land So Rich In Beauty works are of an utmost rarity, both in their quantity as well as their appearance on the market. This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 is moreover often considered a seminal work in the discussion of the development of the artist’s later works. Zeng only composed less than fifteen of such works, for a mere year in 2006 before returning to them briefly in 2010. In spite of their paucity however, the series does not lack in significance. The position of the 2006 series is at the midpoint of Zeng’s employment of lines, which he investigated in the years 2001 to 2011. As such, works like the present painting look both backwards and forwards at Zeng’s oeuvre; reviewing past works as well as forecasting later ones, such as Hare and Praying Hands, paintings which are recreations of Albrecht Dürer’s famous works.
Most interestingly, the painting on offer serves as a defining example of the 2006 body of works. At 5 metres long, it is the largest piece and also the most representative of the later 2010 pieces of the same name due to its execution and size. When one investigates the background of This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6, namely that its name stems from Mao Zedong’s poem Ode to Snow, one realises that the series can be read as Zeng’s exploration into the titular concern of Chairman Mao’s literary work. Starting with This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 1, we see the Chairman depicted amidst an icy landscape, as if investigating the scenery mentioned in the poetic lines themselves. As we move through the series, we travel from the snowy lake, to bushes; slowly shifting from sombre blues to monochrome, before we return to deep bluish hues. When one arrives at the stunning This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6, one is no longer a mere observer of nature, but at one with it. The work invites its audience to inspect it at close proximity; to feel the full extent of the vivacity of nature itself. At the heart of the piece is a latent sense of hope, as a splash of blue skies peeks out from behind the twisted branches.
This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 is also a radical and uncommon transformation of traditional uses of landscape. Primarily known for being an Expressionist painter, capable of executing heartrending pieces filled with pathos and solemn characters, Zeng set aside Western techniques in favour of Eastern influences at the beginning of the millennium. Zeng combines many important elements of Chinese landscape painting in his pieces, such as shanshui hua (landscape paintings, literally “mountain and water paintings”) and shoujuan hua (scroll paintings). The length of the present work is particularly reminiscent of the ancient scrolls, along with its subject matter of meandering vines and branches, one is immediately reminded of the shanshui hua convention of depicting streams and mountains.
Particularly in this piece, Zeng also extends the concept of guohua (literally “national painting” or “country painting”), which is a term that is used quite generally to encompass all aspects of Chinese painting. Within this includes Tang and Song Dynasty works that Zeng drew inspiration from. While the Tang Dynasty was dominated by an exploration of monochromatic versus polychromatic works, as well as the significance of lines and textures, the Song Dynasty was best known for its preoccupation with the landscape at large, and its connection to the human condition. In this way, one can read This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 as a combination of both these dynasties: an investigation of colour and texture, as well as an apt visual representation of the human psyche. Zeng would go on to utilise the styles of these two dynasties heavily in his later works; thus This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 is an apt example of this usage in its origin. In yet another way, the idea of guohua— an artistic model based upon the concept of a nation—is also developed through a subversion of Mao’s patriotic poem, and can be seen as an enquiry into the collective memory of China. Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue’s work of the same name, completed in 1959, is likewise called to mind, where its looming hills and wispy mountains are contrasted with the present Zeng piece. This kind of connection deepens the historical and social significance of Zeng’s This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6, and acts as a valid and important Contemporary rendition of the Modern masterpiece.
When one alternatively enquires into the Western influences behind the piece, it is possible to detect an undercurrent of Jackson Pollock. Zeng is no doubt well-known for drawing inspiration from different Western artists, such as Francis Bacon and Anselm Kiefer. However, when Zeng turned towards his line paintings, a new stimulus came in the form of Pollock, whose line and drip paintings have formed the backbone of the West’s Abstract Expressionist movement. Pollock’s revolutionary “drip paintings” from the 1940s to 1950s were influenced by Surrealist styles along with the concept of “psychic automatism”, a physical representation of the unconscious. The new millennium saw Zeng develop a similar approach of trusting in his own intuition and skill, producing works that feature instances of miao wu (“marvellous revelation”) and luan bi. Moreover, Zeng’s development of scouring and scraping his works, using a palette knife to drag and extend wet paint, gives the work a frantic, energetic nature, successfully capturing the vivacity of the vines. This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 is a fantastic example of this combination; of Zeng’s reinvention of contemporary styles and amalgamating in an exceptional fashion the aesthetics of the East and the West.
Beginning in 2002 with an exhibition at the Pierre Cardin Centre in Paris, Zeng Fanzhi’s artistry has captured the attention of the world beyond the boundaries of China. His line paintings, immediately accessible and much admired by many different audiences, are so appealing perhaps due to their effortless union of Eastern and Western models. This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 is undoubtedly a valid exploration of art forms both of the present and the past, and is a rare painting that captures the very essence of Zeng’s prowess.