A Journey of Life——Interpreting Zhang Guanghui’s Artworks
Source:Artintern.net Author:Ji Shaofeng Date: 2012-09-01 Size:
People familiar with Zhang Guanghui know that he is a taciturn person. Yet behind his taciturnity hides his skillful linguistic expressiveness, which demonstrates his cultural accomplishment and concern as an intellect in visual communication.

People familiar with Zhang Guanghui know that he is a taciturn person. Yet behind his taciturnity hides his skillful linguistic expressiveness, which demonstrates his cultural accomplishment and concern as an intellect in visual communication.

When we first met, his exterior insensitiveness still could not conceal his passion for art and life as well as the accompanying prudence, introversion and profoundness. Such personality, embodied in his works, is continuous improvement in visual communication, and embodied in his life, is detailed plans for future.

Once people enter Northern Bank Studio, they are impressed by the special brilliance, thought, attainment and character of Zhang Guanghui as an artist. Apart from the various honours, certificates and posters of his solo exhibitions of all kinds, the visitors’ book on the wall has clearly indicated the persevering diligence of its owner with his sensitiveness and subtleness. Zhang can both keep abreast with the changing world and give timely, effective response to different societal problems at different times.

Speaking of Northern Bank, or in other words, speaking of the reason for naming the Exhibition From Northern Bank, it is because Northern Bank is a term from Nine Songs • Madame Xiang by famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan who lived in the Warring States Period. The original poem is: “On Northern Bank you descend my dear, Burdened by grief my eyes can’t see clear.” For the artist himself, Northern Bank has unique significance. It is from Northern Bank Studio that he not only sets up a series of his own visual codes, but also impresses the world with distinctive visual artworks in printmaking.

It is the poetic elegance revealed in Northern Bank that ushers us into a world where an intellect of visual communications keeps reflecting on contemporary art, society and life, and expressing such reflection in a passionate way.

After tracing the path of visual artworks of Zhang, it is easy to find that there are three cultural backgrounds underlying his visual communications which are full of changes. The first one is Chu culture. Being romantic and mysterious, it nourishes Zhang’s thought in a comprehensive way. The second one is the training he received in Hubei Institute of Fine Arts (HIFA),. The third one is concept of contemporary art which features a critical passion. Zhang’s special visual communicative way of story telling happens to be closely connected with the development of contemporary art in China.

Like most artists of his times, Zhang’s art path is full of twists and turns. Before he was enrolled by HIFA, he had been working in the Benzene Plant Coke-oven Laboratory. Later he was selected to be sent to Central Academy of Fine Arts for advanced study and training. Having received strict training in printmaking, Zhang demonstrates purity and piety for pursuing the special property of printmaking inside and outside his print works, hoping to strengthen such property in creating visual images and strengthening the importance of regaining such property. Just like what Greenberg has said, such awareness is actually circling around in academic field, it will be difficult to make breakthroughs. So it is easy to understand why Zhang doesn’t use a rebellious attitude and fully display his own personality to lay emphasis to the freedom of an art form. He seeks to convey his perception and understanding of the radically changed society through his own living and surviving experience. On the other hand, deep inside, he emphasizes his special status as a printmaker. Such mentality is demonstrated in his disapproval of prevailing acknowledged authority and his attempt to break through the conventions and norms set by academicism. However the limitations from the authority of system and academic art are still two elements presented in his artworks. On this occasion, neither does he radically challenge academicism and its rules, nor does he bravely join grotesque and gaudy contemporary art, he still presents to the world his passionate understanding of art and life in a sincere and innocent way. The images in his prints take fragmental mountains and hills as the carrier and use the shapes and forms in nature to show two forms of life. The marvelous life in nature embodies the society of rich angles and human life, multifaceted perspectives. On the other hand, problem awareness and critical consciousness, attitude and methodology, as what is underlined by contemporary art, has forced him to walk out of the specific field of printmaking to diversify the monotony of printmaking forms, and to change the existing code and concept, thus reaching harmony in free visual communication and individual spirit. So it is not difficult to know why Zhang’s prints are mostly full of woodblock, silkscreen and copper etching. Silkscreen’s reusability, granular sensation of lithography, the reticular veins of copper etching, the straightforwardness of woodblock, especially the vividness of hand-drawn images, the hard lines and strength presented in three-edge tool scraping, the glittering luster and fluffy light, the mottled look from a distance… all of them impress its audience with imagination, a sense of distance as if in two worlds, contradiction between traditions and reality, conflict between a modern lifestyle and traditional thinking mode. Faced with all these paradoxes, Zhang doesn’t avoid them, but seeks for spiritual freedom from a retrospective standpoint. His spiritual confusion and pursuit can be traced in his article the Retrospection of Fish, where he states: “Fish is Fish and water is water. The two cannot be taken for the other. One must separate one from the other. The seasons keep changing. The fish on the wall is fish; the fish in another fish is fish; the fish just born is fish; after all, what is fish? Spring and summer interchanges, ice turns into water, snow turns vapor, vapor into water… After all, what is water? Engraving and copper etching use fish as their subject, but is the fish the artists see the actual fish? What are their original motives? I meditate on fish and on myself. The fish also meditates on itself. I make print every day to cultivate myself.”

It is the confusion and pursuit of art that lead us to the original world of Zhang Guanghui, an intellectual, meditative and brilliant artist, who passionately dedicates all his life to pursuing art. It is no exaggeration that Zhang’s story telling way and personality are the embodiment of his unique life experience, life journey, his dreamlike meditation and living circumstance. His journey of art is just like his life journey, full of twists and turns. Though it is filled with thorns and obstacles, his dream and hope never die. His anguish in youth, confusion, wild passion, imagination, anxiety in mid-age… All these factors intertwine with each other, reflecting the surviving confusion and anxiety for the unpredictability of life from the perspective of a mid-aged intellect in the field of visual communication. Just like a quotation by Guang Jun at Banjiezi Art Exhibition in 1985, “Our teachers are dissatisfied with us and they describe us as unborn chicken. Our students are dissatisfied with us and they describe us as salted egg. What a tough condition we are in! On our life journey, we are in our midway toward death. On our journey of art, we are still halfway too.” The depression and confusion conveyed in his words are quite similar. It’s just the confusion brought by the modern world is replaced by that brought by a post-modern world.  Facing the fast changing world with accelerating globalization, Zhang Guanghui feels at a loss. So he has to keep up with the sensitive problems in the modern world. Though his Hair Washing series and the Valentine’s Day series label his artworks with modern art, yet his visual communication ways are still free from commercial factors and ideological disruption. He brings to us purity, happiness, romance, mystery and room for meditation. It is the joy and freedom that his artworks generate in our heart that leave us savoring it for a long time.

Zhang Guanghui realizes his value of life and ultimate care in his pursuit of and quest for visual images. But he is still solitary and mysterious. He is able to skillfully adopt different techniques with high flexibility. Without full confidence and knowledge preparation, it will be difficult for him to have the achievements today. At the threshold of modern art, he ponders and wanders, attempting to be closer to it.  

Ernst Cassirer wrote in his Essay on Man: “Without rich personal experience one cannot write an art history in the field of art… a man, if not a systematic scientist, cannot offer people a history of philosophy.

History is passionate in itself. When Zhang Guanghui takes due part in the history with great passion, history becomes splendid and brilliant for artists like him.

 August 8th, 2012


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[Editor] Lola Xu