EXPRESS HONG KONG,
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1994
above the title:
The Sweet Life No.1 is one of
Zhu Wei’s many images of life in Mao’s China
under Zhu’s picture:
art: Zhu Wei with his 1994 piece, The
Sweet Life No.4, finds Westerners "comparatively innocent and
not as sophisticated as the Chinese". Photograph by Frederic Brown
try to treat things as if it is the first time I have seen them."
with a cause that is all his own
Zhu Wei tells Angelica Cheung he is a born worrier who sees the world
through the eyes of a child.
Wei’s personality is a mirror image of his rebellious paintings. Like
his art, Zhu appears straight-forward but is full of individualistic
traits. He has a whiff of stubbornness about him, the kind of determined
streak that makes him stand out from the rest.
soldier-turned-painter is a loner, in his work and in his private life,
but none the less has a strong sense of community spirit.
the Beijing native stands next to paintings appearing in this solo
exhibition in Hong Kong, there is only one conclusion that can be
reached: he is the only person who could have created these iconoclastic
studies of modern China.
many Zhu and his paintings are bold, brash and unacceptable. But
traditionalists might, if pressed, grudgingly admit he does have some
artistic flair. A flair that has survived the stifling cultural diktats
of the Communist Party.
says: "I just want to paint something different."
show at Plum Blossoms Gallery, Exchange Square, is on until November 26.
"I hate to follow what others do and I don’t give a shit what
other people think of me. I paint only what I see and understand."
his paintings, the city of Beijing is peopled by characters of
exaggerated proportions and watchful eyes. Historical China and modern
China inhabit the same city.
China he portrays is urban, proletarian, decadent, funereal,
exploitative, corrupt, old before its time. In a word, a civilization
about to be destroyed and reborn.
Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers and female cadres walk the streets with
Tang dynasty horses, grooms and an array of figures straight from the
pages of China’s 5,000 years of history.
inscribed on many of the paintings are drawn from such diverse sources
as 18th-century Chinese erotic novels, lyrics by Beijing
rocker and friend Cui Jian, and pithy statements from the novelist Milan
uses basic colours. Tiananmen Square, often painted as a graveyard,
features prominently in his backgrounds, as do images and writings of
28, who sports short hair, a scruffy T-shirt and trousers, says:
"Many people think I am too young to paint these sophisticated
works. In my short life, I have experienced the most critical period in
in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution started, Zhu grew up amid mass
slogan shoutings and stick obedience to Mao’s Little Red Book.
his school days in such an extraordinary social environment, Zhu had no
interest in his studies and his grades were poor. But he enjoyed drawing
from a young age.
16, when the Gang of Four had been overthrown and economic reforms were
underway, he joined the PLA. The strict military training he received
helped toughen his character.
the army, his artistic talent was discovered and he was enrolled by the
Art College of the PLA in 1985. But his parents did not approve.
that time, the economic reforms made people care more for money,"
parents thought art was useless because [they didn’t think it could]
bring in money.
wanted me to follow them and become a doctor because it was a profitable
job " many patients send doctors gifts or even money to have
I insisted on becoming an artist. So, they stopped supporting me when I
went to college and I had to find ways to make money and support myself.
was easy. I drew advertisements for factories and picture books for
publishing houses. The money I made was more than enough for the simple
life of a student."
graduation in 1989, he spent three years studying picture design at
Beijing Film College, although he has no intention of entering the film
left the army after graduation in 1992 and established his own studio in
Beijing, painting what he liked and selling the pictures to make a
his seven years in college he saw the rise of the new artistic movement
in China, when many new artistic ideas and values emerged.
the June 4 movement, another cultural turning point, caused many of the
new artists to become disillusioned.
and helpless, we have become cynical towards society, and the heroism
and idealism that used to prevail in Chinese arts have disappeared from
our works," Zhu says.
in China, things are being revalued and there is no clear difference
between good and bad.
is black and white like before when everybody believed in class
struggle. I don’t want to criticize anything. I just want to show the
paint society from an observer’s point of view and use a careless
style to show the people and happenings around us.
give this style a new term " ‘cynical realism’," Zhu
explains with a smile.
10 years of iron discipline in the army have left him with unforgettable
memories and images of soldiers occupy an important position in his
works. Five-point-stars, red flags, slogans and badges can be found in
most of his paintings.
personal experiences stand him out from his contemporaries. "I try
to use a child’s eye to see the world, because the world in a
child’s eyes is natural and pure as crystal, reflecting real life.
try to treat things as if it is the first time I have seen them,"
people complain about having no topics to paint about. Actually, it’s
because they use adults eyes to see the world. They take the people and
things around them for granted and naturally, they all become boring.
know I’m still young and not mature enough. I need to be more
experienced in terms of choosing topics and skills."
comments sound unlikely from the mouth of a proud and confident Zhu
whose achievements have already made him known in Beijing and,
gradually, in Hong Kong.
this year, his unusual paintings caught the attention of Hong Kong’s
art circle when Plum Blossoms Gallery exhibited a small collection at
the art fair, New Tends Art Hong Kong.
paintings sell overseas through galleries and he says his current price
is several thousand United States dollars per painting.
December last year, he bought a 240-square-foot apartment in Beijing for
more than HK$250,000. But he is not proud of his financial success so
I’m the poorest among my classmates. I’m not as good in selling
myself as they are. Many of them have bought large pieces of land in
Beijing and built houses.
I stick to my own principle. Many of them paint whatever they are asked,
but I only paint when I have the inspiration.
ambition is to become an internationally-known painter, but not the
richest one. It sounds very naïve, but I [hope it comes
true]," Zhu says.
only frustration may be his confrontation with his parents. He has not
seen them for almost five years and they have no idea what he is doing.
younger sister acts as their messenger, but she is loyal to her brother
and never tells their parents where he lives.
don’t think it’s a big deal. I think it’s quite common in the West
for children not to see their parents for several years.
whenever we met we quarreled. So, there is no point in meeting each
other. I think it is the generation gap.
don’t tell them where I live, otherwise they will come [to see me]. I
don’t let them know what I’m doing, otherwise they will worry for
me. I just ask my sister to tell them that I’m healthy and happy.
That’s enough," the rebel says of the family.
enjoys his independent life and socializing. He often goes with friends
to a popular Western-style bar opposite the Belgian Embassy in Beijing
where he met China’s first rocker Cui Jian.
friends meet every Saturday night at the bar and stay there until the
next scheme could be setting Mao Zedong’s poems to rock music.
like Mao’s poems very much. It’s very interesting to find that Mao
was conservative, but his poems are not. I think they are still worth
would be great fun to turn them into rock music. I am going to discuss
this further with Cui Jian when I go back," Zhu.
was in the same bar earlier this year that Zhu met his British
girlfriend who is studying Chinese at the People’s University in
lives near the university and had met her several times as he cycled
past. He had not thought of speaking to her until they finally met in
a shrug, he says: "None of my friends feel it strange to have a
Western girlfriend or boyfriend. Nobody in the streets stares at us as
we walk hand-in-hand. Beijing has really changed a lot.
like to make friends with Westerns. They are comparatively innocent and
not as sophisticated as Chinese. If they like you, then they like you.
They don’t take into consideration some other things as Chinese do.
is quite good-looking and nice to me. For most of the time, she speaks
to me in Chinese. Sometimes I speak some English words. My English is
really poor. Several times I started to learn, but never carried on.
It’s a shame.
haven’t thought of our future yet. It’s too early. Just follow our
never optimistic. I was born to worry a lot, about everything. I even
worry that the sky will fall and hit me. You think it’s funny? I mean