Poster of Distant Places

SGA WING #4 is pleased to present DISTANT PLACES, where Zhang Yongxu demonstrates the continued relevance of canvas and paint to artistic self-expression. Much of Zhang Yongxu’s practice is about his travels, observing and seizing upon chance encounters. An abiding theme is the inseparability of art and life and the role played by time; perhaps best captured by the artist to draw on mythic landscapes to transform its circumstances into a vibrant and compelling contemporary allegory. The phenomenology of narrative, its construction and our responses to it, is close to the heart of Zhang’s paintings. The artist is drawn to spaces within stories, not least because they allow the artist to find space for himself in a long line of self-discovery. The dominating element is monumental painted environments and figures based on his journeys he experienced himself. Through mountainous scenarios, driven highways, city buildings and streets, isolated rooms and activities; Zhang uses represented imagery to convey the sense of density, the emotion and ceaseless shimmering of urban reality.

For DISTANT PLACES, the exhibition embraces almost three decades of his practices to explore his hometown, Xinjiang; temporary stays in New York and California, and of his current base, Beijing to numerous new works. The exhibition identifies as much of the subject matter as artist’s own, making the visional as personal as possible. The exhibition is not structured like a retrospective, nor is it chorological. It presents the artists’ works as a single body, whose phases of growth seem dictated by an inner, circular time instead of any linear one. For Zhang, the travels are not just something to be remembered, but also something to be reinterpreted and manipulated, and he is clearly fascinated by the sort of interchange here implied between external and internal terrains. It is equally a study of the mechanisms of narrative, the environment’s understated energies here spurring a story, with an imagery of architecture and portraiture. A deft use of expressiveness for maximum resonance characterizes much of Zhang’s dreamlike paintings. While a discerning observer in his lived experiences, his portrayals unfolding in his mind’s eyes, the artist painted scenes of his homeland, the vast openness of fields and mountains, hinting at a subtext of dependency and longing, alongside rapturous vision of a mythic world belonging to another era and time that allows for vulnerability and offers no resolution. What’s he also foregrounding, however, is a fragmented line of antirational thought that expresses a mood of visual oddness; populating unusual scenarios and portray different personalities. His visual world is both humorous and sinister. Exotic and full of strange energy, there are acrobatics, dancing horses and figures, elaborated costumes and naked bodies etc. Zhang’s paintings, with its blunt and loose brushstrokes, vibrate with raw energy. Perhaps because of their layered presence, Zhang’s canvases seem to address abstruse or esoteric subjects. The artist appears driven to reconcile this mysticism with subjectivity and the trappings of everyday life. He wanders into somber, indeterminate environments and dusty corners of cultures: cordoned-off areas of human promiscuity and follies, embarrassing attitude and tension, vulnerability of loners and misfits – society’s dismissed cases that are cut off from the mainstream world. Simmering with melancholy, Zhang’s subjects appeared trapped within themselves, and within no-man’s-land they inhabit. He has an eye that consistently finds the moodiness which the viewer is invited to gaze upon. Few of his portraits are laid with expressive and out-of-scale distortion; the dynamic lines and gestures of their kaleidoscopic compositions communicated a lively spectacle of sassiness. Radiantly inventive, with intense harmonies of bold and rapid washes of hues, the canvases act like exercises in working out all the possibilities (and the workings) of paint and finding a balance in which all different outcomes coexist without denying one another. Zhang refuses to be stereotyped. Owing to his earnest process, and his absolute refusal to conform to the expectation and pressures of his generation and the art scene in general, his oeuvre remains comparatively small given that he has steadily refining his approach for more than 30 years. The result and this exhibition is a fascinating way of coding his world that seems at once arbitrary and purposeful.

About the exhibition

Dates: Mar 15, 2014 – Apr 14, 2014

Opening: Mar 15, 2014, 17:00, Saturday

Venue: Shanghai Gallery of Art

Courtesy of the artist and Shanghai Gallery of Art, for further information please visit www.shanghaigalleryofart.com.

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