HomeBiographyArtworksSealsArticlesPublicationsReviewsConversationColumnNewsChinese PaintingContact



click for full size  

The Strait Times 新加坡《海峡时报》

October 20 2000 二零零零年十月二十日刊


The Strait Times

Friday, October 20, 2000

Silent Protest - Blank faces that can say so much

Photos Illustrations:

Left above: PURBLE BREATH FROM THE EAST No.3: (ink and colour on paper) A giant sleeps, while the ordinary man awaits his awakening.

Left: GREAT WATER NO.1: (above, ink and colour on paper) In this painting the sea is empty, a metaphor for the human world. It also suggests a contemporary interpretation of a traditional landscape.

Middle: SOUTH SEA NO.4:( ink and colour on paper) A fish swimming in air; nature as a metaphor for reality.

Right: SUNFLOWERS NO.50: (ink and colour on paper) Faces here are likened to flowers which turn themselves constantly to face the sun. The background flowers take us back to the traditional paintings from which Zhu’s technique has evolved.

Soulless eyes cast towards the sky, Zhu Wei's recurrent figures are modern terracotta warriors tinged with enigma, irony and humour

ZHU WEI DIARY, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Until Oct 29


YOU would expect the work of one of China's leading contemporary artists to dynamic. Zhu Wei's work certainly that, but it is astonishingly personal young man who was born on the eve of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and who grew up in a country where the individual second to the needs of the group.

This collection of paintings and lithographs are indeed, as the title of the show suggests, a diary, a visual narrative that takes the place of verbal protest.

The artist chooses to remain silent on what he thinks and feels and it is for the viewer to read the thoughts and messages contained within Zhu's imagery.

He observes and records in his paintings what he sees, reflections of his inner thoughts.     

As one gazes upon the figures which are repeated over and over again in so many of his works, the sameness and solidity, and perhaps a hint of soul-less-ness, is hinted at in their stance, suggesting that they are every man and no man. They might almost be the artist himself. He, however, remains silent on this issue, as silent and solid as the figures he portrays.

Many of these "soulless" figures have their eyes raised to the sky. Does this symbolise that there is hope as the artist claims? Or do they simply avert their eyes to avoid facing reality?

The opaque, almost invisible quality of these generalised portrayals of the Chinese people suggests an invisible quality, a subconscious suggestion that they might just as wall not be there.

This implied quality is belied by the imaginative use of traditional techniques. The firm use of outlining asserts their existence, and the background texture that evokes old silk surfaces, shows through their fleshless faces. But it also creates dimension, lifting the figures off the traditional flat plane of the painting's surface.

By so doing, Zhu gives existence and meaning to the lives of the faceless masses. He proclaims through his work that they do have an existence.

Having given substance to the lives of the people he portrays, the artist has taken  is work a step further. He now create fibreglass sculptures, often monumental in scale, giving further substance to the people he celebrates in his paintings.

He places them in modern dress, but he draws his imagery from ancient sources to make his point about modern Chinese history; they are the modern terracotta army, their faces gazing upwards.  Except they have no faces to know what it is they see.

Zhu's work is extraordinary, and stands out starkly against so much of the vacuous, meaningless contemporary work that is now so often peddled from China to the West. If his paintings do imply a certain anger at the way things are, it is always tinged with irony and humour, and if he does make a political observation, he does it with a modicum of courtesy.

He retains a sense of pride in being Chinese, and sees the inherent beauty that lies just below the surface. After all, how could one enjoy his paintings, or want to read his diary if he did not?