October 20, 2000
Protest - Blank faces that can say so much
above: PURBLE BREATH FROM THE EAST No.3: (ink and colour on paper) A
giant sleeps, while the ordinary man awaits his awakening.
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.
SOUTH SEA NO.4:( ink and colour on paper) A fish swimming in air; nature
as a metaphor for reality.
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.
eyes cast towards the sky, Zhu Wei's recurrent figures are modern
terracotta warriors tinged with enigma, irony and humour
WEI DIARY, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Until Oct 29
SIANE . JAY
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
collection of paintings and lithographs are indeed, as the title of the
show suggests, a diary, a visual narrative that takes the place of
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
observes and records in his paintings what he sees, reflections of his
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?