Lot 1072
  • 1072

Zeng Fanzhi

10,000,000 - 15,000,000 HKD
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  • Zeng Fanzhi
  • Untitled 10-1-2
  • signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 2009
  • oil on canvas


Zeng Fanzhi, ArtMia Foundation, Beijing, China, 2010, pp. 20-21, front and back cover
Zeng Fanzhi: Every Mark Its Mask, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Germany, 2010, pp. 216 - 217


This work is generally in good condition. There is a small cluster of craquelures in the central and lower right area near the artist's signature, as well as two pinpoint specks of paint loss along the horizontal lower edge. There is very mild and small areas of accretion on the impasto areas in the lower left quadrant near the vertical edge, as well as near the horizontal edge. Having examined the work under ultraviolet light, there appears to be no evidence of restoration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“In fact I have always been creating out of destruction: from the Mask series onwards, I have not wanted you to be able to glimpse the truth; perhaps this is a sentiment I harbour within myself, one that encapsulates even the works that I am working on now, which are born of a journey of destruction.” - Zeng Fanzhi

Vivacious Vines
Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi is an artist who is adept at restraining destruction and chaos. In all of his works lies an indescribable sense of severity, something undeniably ominous and even passionate, all of which can be felt from the apocalyptic scenes of his earliest Pink series in the nineties, to the brutality depicted in the Meat and Hospital series, to the shockingly calm Mask figurines. Each scene captures a contained sense of calamity, fit to burst at any given moment.  At the turn of the century, the artist refocused this energy into a radically new approach, creating a series of works that would continue for more than a decade. This artistic shift investigated expression through lines, fluidity, and form. They would also grow beyond the Expressionist flare with which Zeng had painted for decades prior, and instead showcased the artist’s deft amalgamation of Eastern and Western components. An exemplary and mature piece from this later artistic approach is the enormous and visually stunning Untitled 10-1-2 (Lot 1072), a work that exemplifies Zeng’s unique capability to marry the influences of tradition with the likes of Western Abstract Expressionism, to culminate in a truly unique, cross-cultural piece that serves as an apt metaphor for Zeng’s international repute.  

Zeng is no doubt primarily known as an Expressionist painter; long having been dubbed the “Mask Artist”, the artist’s oeuvre is often associated with heaving scenes of incredible pathos, or startling apathy. In the 2000s however, Zeng set aside Western techniques in favour of Eastern influences, and created works such as the present Untitled 10-1-2: radical and uncommon transformations of traditional uses of landscape paintings. In such pieces, Zeng combines important elements of Chinese landscape painting, such as shanshui hua (landscape paintings, literally “mountain and water paintings”) and shoujuan hua (scroll paintings). In particular, the length of the present work is 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 extends elements of Tang and Song Dynasty landscape works. 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 Untitled 10-1-2 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 Untitled 10-1-2 is an apt example of this usage in its origin. 

It is likewise possible to detect a hint of Western influences in Untitled 10-1-2, such as the artistic techniques of famed Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s works, whose ‘drip paintings’ from the forties and fifties were influenced by Surrealist styles, were created in line with “psychic automatism”, a physical representation of the unconscious. In the new millennium, Zeng developed a similar approach of trusting in his own intuition and skill, and produced various works featuring instances of miao wu (“marvellous revelation”) and luan bi (literally "chaotic brush"). By scouring and scraping his works, led only by rhythm and instinct, the artist used a palette knife to drag and extend wet paint. The results were paintings that had a frantic, lively quality, successfully capturing the vivacity of the vines he sought to depict. 

In all of this rampant show of energy and unrestrained nature is also a dormant sense of destruction amidst a controlled tranquillity. There is an undeniable element of ruin and disarray, as strong twines push through and thrash about on the canvas, represented by slashes of paint slicing through nature. As can be seen in Untitled 10-1-2, there is a quiet sense of sustained calm in the crowded clutter of the branches, creating a perfect equilibrium between these two opposing forces. It is because of this that when one arrives at the stunning Untitled 10-1-2, 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 piercing white light peeks out from behind the twisted branches.

Zeng has once confessed that there is one constant in his oeuvre: destruction. “In fact I have always been creating out of destruction,” the artist admits. It is in such a way that Zeng continues to awe, continually challenging both himself and his audience, beckoning them closer to inspect his energetic works while simultaneously never revealing too much.