"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
At the turn of the millennium, Zeng Fanzhi was shifting his focus from masks to a completely new direction: namely abstract landscapes. He successfully combined abstraction with the portraits of his earlier period, and spent over a decade creating a brand-new series in which the mediums of his expression were lines, shapes, and movement. Zeng then moved beyond his earlier Mask series, characterised by its Expressionist style. At this evening sale we are delighted to introduce two representatives of Zeng’s abstract use of line; Untitled, a piece based on Andy Warhol, and This Land So Rich in Beauty No. 2, one of Zeng’s early abstract landscapes. Zeng started with painting and adopted abstraction as his the basis of his style, demonstrating his comprehensive mastery of Eastern and Western cultures alike. In his early period, Zeng gave his luanbi shanshui (loose-brush landscape) series a very prominent position during his personal exhibition at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing, a clear indication of its importance to the artist. At the same exhibition, Zeng also displayed a group of new pieces completed in the traditional painting style – a clear manifestation of how traditional landscape painting and hand scrolls have influenced him. He succinctly integrated the styles of renowned Western Abstract Expressionist masters; thereby creating his own diverse style – an incomparable example of Zeng’s well-deserved place on the international stage.
Zeng Fanzhi began his work on the Masks series in 1994. In 2001, he added abstract lines to the masks, marking a new foray into Abstract Expressionism in his work. By 2002 Zeng had started on his Us series, using a painting scroll format. His Untitled work from 2004 continues the legacy of the Us series. Centring on the American Pop-Art master Andy Warhol, the work is an integration of abstract lines and figure painting. Zeng’s adoption of luanbi (loose-brush technique) is perhaps his most significant stylistic change, beginning in 2002. This style came from Zeng injuring his right hand, and then experimenting with using his left hand to paint. The result was that, from out of this accidental creative process, a new method of expression emerged – loose-brush lines or luanbi xiantiao. It was on this basis that Zeng then created and exhibited a number of different series; Andy Warhol was obviously among them. In truth, Andy Warhol has always occupied a significant place in the life of Zeng’s art, having already appeared multiple times in the earlier Masks series. The Andy in Untitled is positioned in front of the mirror, so there are simultaneously two images of him in the painting – front and reverse. The luanbi (loose-brush) lines seem to partly conceal the figure beneath. In this sense, one could describe the work as an extension of the spirit of Zeng’s Masks series.
Around the same time, Zeng Fanzhi also began to explore using luanbi in his landscapes; amongst these the This Land So Rich in Beauty series is paramount, especially in terms of its rarity in the market. Zeng composed less than fifteen of such works, once for a mere year in 2006 before returning to them briefly in 2010. Appearing at today’s sale, This Land So Rich in Beauty No. 2 is the second of his works from 2006, rich in the initial significance of the series. The 2006 series is positioned at the very midpoint of Zeng’s exploration of lines, a project he undertook in the years 2001 to 2011. As such, works like the present painting look both backwards and forwards at Zeng’s oeuvre; alluding to past works as well as foreshadowing later ones, such as Hare and Praying Hands, paintings which are recreations of Albrecht Dürer’s famous works.
When exploring the Western influences behind the piece, one finds a palpable undercurrent of Jackson Pollock’s style. Zeng is no doubt well-known for drawing inspiration from different Western artists, such as Francis Bacon and Anselm Kiefer. However, when he 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.