Lot 1041
  • 1041

Zhang Enli

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Zhang Enli
  • Wire Netting No. 4
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and dated 2011; signed and titled in Chinese and dated 2011 on the reverse


Zhang Enli, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China, 2011, p. 97


This work is in very good condition. Two minor stain marks are noted near the lower left edge which are likely inherent to the artist's method of execution. No evidence of restoration under UV examination.
"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

East Meets West
Zhang Enli

I feel that we all search for forgotten elements in tradition...Several generations are already with us searching through them for hidden treasures. -- Zhang Enli

The peak of Zhang Enli's career came in 2011, when his solo exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum affirmed his status as a major contemporary Chinese artist. In fact, during that same crucial year, Zhang created two important series, Mosaic and Net, that influenced his subsequent creative direction. Two artworks in this auction, Wire Netting No. 4 (Lot 1041) and Peeled Mosaic No. 3 (Day Sale Lot 823), both painted during that important year, are essential and representative works from those two series. These works also anticipate Zhang's subsequent still life and spatial paintings, indicating their importance to his creativity. At the same time, Zhang combined mature artistic styles of China and the West, as these two works demonstrate.

The unique language of Zhang Enli's paintbrush occupies an important and prominent place in the world of contemporary Chinese art. Zhang was born in 1965 and, like many other artists of his generation, did not begin to attract the art world's attention until the early 2000s. Unlike mainstream artists from the 1960s, Zhang eschews Chinese political ideology and the empty materialism of the nineties, and refuses to satirise or despair of current political realities; his focus has always been on his canvas and the tip of his brush, scrutinising the painting itself in search of the secrets to life and mortality behind everyday objects and spaces, shuttling to and fro between different realities. Like the art critic Gu Zheng wrote during the artist's 2010 solo exhibition, "At a time when it is fashionable in the Chinese art world to ascribe too much external meaning to works of art, [Zhang's] paintings, and every single stroke within them, flatly refuse to give you a straightforward statement or declaration. He wants his audience to recall and reflect with him the essence of painting, and with his colours and his lines helps the audience slowly explore the trivial matters of this world, which he depicts in such a simple yet sublime way." Over the course of time, these paintings, focusing on senses and experiences and brimming with individuality and poetry, have thoroughly cemented Zhang's place in the art world. His works are acclaimed and collected by a number of international art galleries, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Born in Jilin in 1965 and a graduate of the Arts & Design Institute at Wuxi Technical University, Zhang Enli's earlier works were predominantly inspired by his first impressions of Shanghai. In 2000, Zhang held his first solo exhibition, "Dancing", at the ShanghART Gallery, where he displayed his early explorations of humanity and psychology in a style that was clearly influenced by German Expressionism. Since 2000, Zhang Enli's creative direction has gradually shifted towards still life paintings. Bottles, jars, buckets, and other containers were his initial subjects: light vessels that, to the artist, contained daily life. Containers, these extensions of the body which became the most important theme of his work in the new millennium, possess certain psychological and symbolic connotations; they also serve as a means for the artist to depict the realities of society. In the late 2000s, the artist expanded his subject material to include other objects such as iron nets and mosaics. Wire Netting No. 4 is a large-scale work of two-and-a-half metres in height, and wire netting occupies the entire picture plane. Two holes in the net lend it a dynamic sense of divergence from reality. The sky visible through these holes are reminiscent of the liubai traditional ink painting technique of leaving white space, which serves as a foil for the rhythmic effect produced by the irregular shape and lines of the net. Nets appear in diverse forms in Zhang's paintings, including window screens, embroidery, metal nets, and so on. The artist extracts the lines of the nets and transforms them into purer forms such as pipes or electrical wires, exploring the essence of painting language.           

The subject of Peeled Mosaic No. 3 is an incomplete mosaic wall. The peeled-off part is the focus of the painting, painted in brown, whereas the surrounding, intact part of the mosaic is filled out with a dilute single layer of oil paint. The colour of the peeled part of the wall is layered and finely variegated, demonstrating the artist's skill in the Chinese ink painting technique of diluting a single pigment. He unhurriedly depicts the sense of space within the mosaic as if capturing a glimpse of life's rhythms on a flat canvas. The Mosaic Series, one of the Zhang Enli's important and influential art themes, presages his later series of spatial paintings. This series perfectly captures his application of traditional Chinese painting techniques within the medium of Western painting and confirms his unique standing in international painting circles.