ShangART Gallery, Shanghai Rosewood Collection, New York Acquired from the above by the present owner
Brussels, La Moutarderie Nationale, Collection Gillion Crowet, 2007 - 2019
Chang Tsong-zung and Shu Kewen, Recent Works by Zeng Fanzhi, Hong Kong 2005, p. 53, illustrated in colour (detail) and p. 61, illustrated in colour
Miao wu is not simply a revelation, but an awakening of an unknown world – at once foreign and familiar – concealed in the depths of life.
Executed in an enchanting palette of luminescent blues and pinks, Zeng Fanzhi’s Scapes from 2005 is a masterful and early example of the artist’s acclaimed Luanbi Shanshui series. With its softly luminous aura and appeasing picturesque temperament reminiscent of Claude Monet’s winter sunrise paintings, achieved through vibrant energetic abstract brushwork that references the artist’s inspiration from Jackson Pollock, Zeng Fanzhi bridges Western and Chinese traditions in a unique and stunning visual vocabulary. Enticing the viewer into a realm of landscape painting in which the transition between figuration and abstraction progressively blurs, Zeng offers a consummate blending of his idiosyncratic intuition for colour and his astute sense of history devolving the rich past of Chinese landscape painting into a powerful contemporary vision.
Originally begun in 2004, Zeng’s series of abstract landscapes follows the artist’s renowned Mask paintings. The more fluid and vigorous landscape paintings mark a clear departure from the artist’s early oeuvre, which was rich in symbolism and revealed the influence of German Expressionism. By contrast, the later landscapes focused Zeng Fanzhi’s creative energies on the act of painting and his passionate exploration of both technique and medium. A large brush conceives the background with broad strokes while a thinner brush composes the wild grass on either side of a calm river. Zeng’s development of scouring and scraping his works, using either a palette knife or the handle of his paintbrush to drag and extend wet paint, lends his brushwork an urgent, spirited nature, successfully capturing the vivacity of twisting branches and vines. Evolving from the metaphoric and symbolic qualities of his figurative works, these landscape paintings herald Zeng’s new technical freedom and display a vibrating energy reminiscent of various lineages in global art history. The automatic flow of his brushstrokes unleashes an aesthetic expression akin to the automatic drawings of the Surrealists; while the profusion of energy dispersed across the picture plane recalls the influence of Jackson Pollock, who himself was influenced by the Surrealist’s concept of “psychic automatism”.
More fundamentally, Zeng’s Luanbi Shanshui enter into a fascinating visual and intellectual dialogue with the past the deep history of Chinese landscape painting, synthesizing important elements of Chinese landscapes from the Tang and Song Dynasty. While the Tang Dynasty was dominated by an exploration of monochromism versus polychromism as well as scrutinizing the significance of line and texture, the Song Dynasty was best known for its preoccupation with landscape at large and its connection to the human condition. By aptly manipulating oil paint with fingers and brushstrokes, Zeng not only demonstrates his absolute mastery of technique but creates undulating lines of immediate expressiveness and lyrical power that extend the historical relevance of landscape painting.
Recently in March 2019, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired a monumental landscape painting by Zeng Fanzhi, attesting to the international prominence of the artist’s post-Mask visual lexicon. In the present work, Zeng’s singular painterly technique is used to capture the unruly crusades of large swathes of grass on either side of a calm river. Entangled in a complex infrastructure of the formed and unformed, the lively motion of these plants contrasts sublimely against the tranquil brushwork that captures the water and the sky in Scapes. Compositionally, Zeng has carefully balanced order and chaos, and mirrored it in his use of dark versus light colours. Exuding a confidence in his mastery of material and technique, Zeng Fanzhi merges aesthetic traditions of the East and the West, creating a signature new visual language full of sell-assured painterly virtuoso.