Between Reality and IllusionBy Chang Tsong-zung
Critical analyses of Zhang Xiaogang's work are usually based on its iconography and style, which reveal a strong consistency whether the works are studied from the angle of artistic intention or personal history. If we look at the "phenomenon" of Zhang Xiaogang, and consider elements of his art that have helped to establish his position in the art world, we can look away from Zhang's psychological and personal history, to focus on his contributions to artistic language in contemporary Chinese art.
There is a quietly seductive, as well as disturbing, appeal to Zhang's paintings. They hover between realistic depiction and dreamy illusion. Zhang has achieved this by bringing together a number of polarities. Zhang uses a technique based on western academic realism to suggest unreality and illusion; he portrays a private insular world by means of a public artistic language, hinting at unspoken public trauma through individuals' secrets. Over twenty years, Zhang has managed to resolve his own stylistic passage from an early expressionistic period to a form of classicism. In both its technique and thematic concerns, Zhang Xiaogang's art has become a canon of contemporary Chinese oil painting, and its merits depend very much on the fact that he has found new solutions to harnessing western classical academic technique (a standard in Chinese academies) to turn it into an indigenous artistic language.
Zhang Xiaogang is very much a product of the Chinese art academy system, and out of this heritage he has developed an iconography and identified a special sensibility that in many ways define this era. Because Zhang's footing is within the academy system, therefore the system may also claim credit for his success. So it follows that Zhang should be looked upon as a paradigmatic success model of the Chinese art world. Bloodline and Amnesia and Memory, the two series that have made Zhang's reputation in the 1990s, focus on portraiture, a subject underlined by concerns around the visual portrayal of the Chinese figure, especially as it involves the adaptation of western classical painting technique to local needs.
In the 1980s Western classical technique was reinstated as the norm for Chinese art academies, especially at the Central Art Academy, but the technique was never totally naturalised; apart from the fact that academic art was held back by conservatism, falling behind the vanguard in experimentation, it has not created a completely satisfactory "Chinese" solution to technical approach and stylistic expressions. Zhang's answer to this problem is to revive the charcoal portraiture technique developed in the Republic era, so as to capture subtle facial expressions through a surface treatment approaching flatness.
This solution makes a cultural connection with the pioneering era when western painting technique was first successfully borrowed by popular art to portray the figure, when it was adapted to mass culture in the spirit of popular folk taste. It is therefore close to traditional Chinese taste, hence successful in making claims to be a new paradigm. Read the entire article hereSource: