Realism (Pipan Xianshi Zhuyi)
1989, this style of art is characterised by repeated figures of
bald-headed men, often smiling or laughing maniacally, perhaps in an
ironic statement about the forced conformity Zhu Wei, Yue Minjun and Fang
Liiun pioneered this style.
Realism like Zhu Wei and Yue Minjun have dabbled in sculpture, bringing
their paintings into three dimensions. Ai Weiwei’s conceptual pieces are
often Dada-esque. Sui Jianguo is another prominent sculptor - his most
recent signature piece was a giant toy dinosaur with the words ‘Made in
china’ appearing prominently on its chest.
of the pictures:
'Cynical Realist' Zhu Wei
‘Festival’ by Zhu Wei
‘China Diary’ by Zhu Wei
searches for an audience amongst his compatriots
Painter, sculptor, woodcutter
of Birth: 1966
Zhu Wei is
the embodiment of contemporary China. Born in Beijing during the 'cultural
revolution,' he joined the PLA at the age of 16 where he learned to paint
propaganda posters in the military art school (he left the military in
1989). He is a rock and roll enthusiast and a personal friend of Cui Jian.
Though he has been living in the same four-story condo in Shunyi for three
years now, he still longs for the days when he painted on the floor of his
tiny room in Wudaokou. His habits haven’t changed. He still lives like a
starving artist - his condo is minimally furnished and his carpets are
stained with ink. He sleeps on a mattress thrown on the floor of his
studio, while his girlfriend sleeps upstairs.
bought some of his sculptures, and they are currently on display below an
Andy Warhol print in the lobby of the IBM building in Manhattan. In late
2004, Sotheby's will be auctioning his famous painting of Deng Xiaoping,
"China, China," during an auction of international contemporary
art. The only other Chinese artist to be auctioned will be Xu Bing.
Despite his fame abroad, Zhu is virtually unknown at home.
There are several other artists such as Fang Lijun, who are considered
Cynical Realists, using imagery that's similar to yours. Did you draw from
them to develop your style?
No, they learned from me. They showed up in the media before I did, but
I've been doing this since '92. But it's not important who did what first.
It's who does it the best. If you're talking about ink paintings, I'm the
best. I won't say anything about oil paintings.
So why do you use the images that you use, such as people in communist
uniforms and SARS masks?
work mostly in traditional gongbi (meticulous brush painting), a
specifically Chinese medium. My goal is to keep it vibrant and relevant. I
use certain images to tie my paintings to modem times. I use a traditional
medium to deal with contemporary themes.
Since you have only been exhibited abroad, have you found yourself
catering more to foreign audiences?
I don't really think that much about whether my audience is foreign or
domestic when I paint. In fact, I mainly think about the time in my life
when I hung out with all the punks in Wudaokou. I prefer to hang out with
musicians. I actually don’t know that many artists personally, I was
listening to a lot of punk and heavy metal at that time. I use a
traditional medium, but when you're listening to that kind of music,
there's no way you can paint traditional subjects [laughs].
So is it important for you to succeed at home now that you've been so
It's not about the money. If I don't get recognition in my home country,
it will be as if I never succeeded at all. I hope to begin exhibiting more
at home in 2004. Maybe I'll start with one or two pieces in a group show,
and we'll see from there.
Is Beijing a work of art?
No. It's a place that produce art. I don’t think I would be able to
produce art anywhere else. The Tyler Foundation has invited me to do a 3
month residency in Singapore. I know they want me to produce work that has
something to do with Singapore. But I don't think it really matters if I
do or not [laughs].
- Gerald Mak
- Gerald Mak