November 3, 2000
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
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’
an uncanny resemblance between Zhu Wei's heavy gaze and that of Comrade
Captain #3. The piece could almost be a self-portrait
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
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.
several canvases and sculptures featuring people in
Mao suits, the question of politics naturally arises.
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.
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.
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..."
waves his hands about his head and makes the sound of police cars again.
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.
is apparently as close as he gets to talking directly about politics.
His art is no different.
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
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.
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
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.
can't control things like my mood. I have depressions."
there anything that makes him happy? Another long pause. "Drinking
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.
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
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.
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.
are things that are important to a kid, not art." the 34-year-did
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.
'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.
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."