Pace Gallery in New York is currently exhibiting a selection of new works by the renowned Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang, a body of works that sees him continuing to explore and interpret his unique painterly language. Mixing together domestic scenes and surrealist iconographies, then populating them with a mixture of shared cultural symbols and figures from his own childhood memories. Xiaogang’s work is a remarkable window into complex psychological states and cultural moorings.
The paintings in the exhibition build on the artist’s long-held interest in portraiture and narrative imagery, relying in particular on domestic scenes to serve as his primary subject matter. However, in these recent works, a new compositional dynamic has emerged through the figures. In the artist’s earlier figurative portraits, such as the iconic Bloodline – A Big Family series, the subjects are presented in group formations, positioned in the foreground of the canvas. In these new portraits, by contrast a powerful weightlessness or instability emerges. The figures drift upon the canvas, balance on precarious wooden stools, and even float within a bathtub of water—projecting a sense of isolation and alienation from their environments. His figures move away from easy familial relations and dynamics, and, instead, turn the focus of the works on to lone agents and actors, a prompt that lends his pieces, and the often staid visages of his subjects an additional sense of mystery and tension.
With this new series, the artist has also embraced new techniques in creating the image itself, working in elements of collage and assemblage into his works. Torn, layered paper adds additional texture to his works, and equally function as an emphasis on the fragmentary nature of his scenes, and the memories that have produced them. The collage technique merges with the act of painting, with the two presenting corresponding executions of both physical and cerebral creation. Both the technical and figurative composition of the works reflect the artist’s broad interrogation of painting in turn, rejecting it as a purely physical action, and inviting the unconscious forces of the mind a distinct agency in interpretation and spatial logic.
Connection and understanding have long served as dominating themes in the painter’s work, challenging the viewer to delve into the personas projected forth from his own mind onto the canvas. In their peculiar, occasionally cryptic series of interactions and relationships, Xiaogang’s pieces have long pulled threads of alienation and abstraction. Yet here, with lone figures and complex scenes utilizing individuals in unspecified states of interaction, his works turn towards the individual unconscious, and the act of identification that invariably comes with the presentation of multiple figures. Pushing the viewer into networks of meaning and affiliation with these new modes of figuration, Xiaogang once again allows memory, and the human mind, to fill in the empty spaces.
The work is on view through October 20th.
— D. Creahan
Zhang Xiaogang: Recent Works [Pace]