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November 3 2000 二零零零年十一月三日刊


Hong Kong iMail

Friday, November 3, 2000

Reality checked

Zhu Wei is not only one of the most popular artists in Hong Kong, but his work also earns him a handsome living. Why then is the artist so tortured? asks Sherman Chau

'When I first talked to this generation of artists and found that they didn't discuss social   issues, I thought it was out of fear. Then I realised it was because they didn't care’

There's an uncanny resemblance between Zhu Wei's heavy gaze and that of Comrade Captain #3. The piece could almost be a self-portrait

AZEN-LIKE calm covers the art gallery like a thick blanket. Noise seems to be swallowed up by pictures of giant faces that stretch from the floor to the ceiling.

The meditative atmosphere is barely disturbed by the hushed tones of mainland artist Zhu Wei. His exhibition, the Zhu Wei Diary, occupies the walls of the Plum Blossoms gallery.

With several  canvases  and  sculptures featuring people in Mao suits, the question of politics naturally arises.

Suddenly. the artist sits up in his chair, as if agitated by something inside him. He screws up his face, he flails his hands around his head, in comic fashion not unlike one of the Three Stooges. Strange growling noises emanate from his throat.

Zhu is imitating the blare of police sirens in his native Beijing. Like the flash of magnesium in contact with air, the subject of law and order causes a similar reaction.

"In Hong Kong, you see policemen on the street. In Singapore, you may see policemen on the street giving fines. That's OK, they are present and noticeable, but not overbearing. But In Beijing..."

He waves his hands about his head and makes the sound of police cars again.

"This! All the time! When Hong Kong and Singapore police are off-duty, they don't make a big fuss, but in Beijing, they love making lots of noise for no reason," he says, shaking his head in dismay.

This is apparently as close as he gets to talking directly about politics. His art is no different.

There is something in the subtle, light-hearted humour that carries a trace of subversiveness. Yet Zhu's political message. if indeed it exists, is an elusive one.

The paintings in the Zhu Wei Diary exhibition bear a resemblance to his last show in Hong Kong. Diary of the Sleepwalker in 1998. He returns to his trademark style of distorted faces and vacant eyes that avoid direct contact with the viewer.

The sculptural series, China China, features modern figures in "Mao suits" done in the style of the terracotta warriors of the Qin dynasty. The figures Jean forward in an excessively polite and courteous bow.

Art critics say Zhu's works have a humorous and satirical tone. The artist disagrees. "The humour is not intended. I'm not a funny person at all. In fact, I have quite an unstable character. I can't understand what makes other people happy," he says.

"I can't control things like my mood. I have depressions."

Is there anything that makes him happy? Another long pause. "Drinking beer."

A second look at his paintings reveals not a single smiling face in sight. In fact, the large faces with blank expressions are barely contained by the frame and have a stifling, claustrophobic effect.

It's weird because Zhu should have every reason to be happy. Plum Blossoms marketing manager Mami Shinozaki says he is not only the gallery's top-selling artist, but is also one of the most popular in Hong Kong today.

His larger works, canvases measuring nearly two square meters, sell for anything between  $200,000 and $300,000.  Plum Blossoms director Henry Au-Yeung explains that Zhu has simply found the middle ground between Eastern and Western tastes.

Perhaps it is his conflicting feelings on the commercialization of the art scene in China.    Born in 1966, Zhu's parents were doctors in the People's Liberation Army. He remembers his desire for decent clothes and good food overshadowing his desire to draw. And he remembers crying when he could not have these things.

"These are things that are important to a kid, not art." the 34-year-did artist says.

So even though Zhu says that artists have more creative freedom than ever before, and have reaped the harvest of the mainland's economic liberalisation, he feels there must be something more than materialism.

"The 'art for art's sake' movement that is currently popular is all wrong. You have to have feelings in your art, otherwise you are a liar. When I first talked to this generation of artists and found that they didn't discuss social issues. I thought it was out of fear. Then I realised it was because they didn't care. Art has to address reality, otherwise it is meaningless," he says.

With such a strong social conscience, Zhu is fully aware of the political context that he paints in. Asked if there is a subject he is afraid to express, he answers: "I always try to avoid this question. I think my limitations are most often technical ones. I also know that there are subjects that make people ... 'unhappy'. But being an artist in China is not about being safe. It's about being smart."




作者 雪曼. 




















这很奇怪,因为朱伟应该可以为任何一个理由高兴。万玉堂画廊的市场部经理Mami Shinozaki说他不仅是画廊销量第一的艺术家,而且是香港现在最受欢迎的艺术家之一。