Selected works by Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang
A Big Family

1995

Oil on canvas

179 x 229 cm
Inspired by family photos from the Cultural Revolution period, as well as the European tradition of surrealism, Zhang Xiaogang’s paintings engage with the notion of identity within the Chinese culture of collectivism. Basing his work around the concept of ‘family’ –immediate, extended, and societal – Xiaogang’s portraits depict an endless genealogy of imagined forebears and progenitors, each unnervingly similar and distinguished by minute difference.

Often painted in black and white, Xiaogang’s portraits translate the language of photography into paint. Drawing from the generic quality of formal photo studio poses and greyscale palette, Xiaogang’s figures are nameless and timeless: a series of individual histories represented within the strict confines of formula. The occasional splotches of colour which interrupt his images create aberrant demarcations, reminiscent of birth marks, aged film, social stigma, or a lingering sense of the sitter’s self assertion.

Incorporating the aesthetic of traditional Chinese charcoal drawing, Xiaogang’s style wavers between the exaggeration of animation and stoic flatness. Muted and compliant, Xiaogang’s extended family convey individual identity through their unalterable physical features: too big heads, tiny hands, long noses, and subtle alterations in hairstyle give clues to intimate characteristics and stifled emotions. These dream-like distortions give a complex psychological dimension to Xiaogang’s work, heightening the tension of regulated claustrophobia, and initiating suggestive narrative readings.
Zhang Xiaogang
Bloodline

2005

Oil on canvas

200 x 260 cm
Through his expansive clan of replica characters, Xiaogang questions notions of otherness, difference, and perception. In Bloodline, Xiaogang’s two sitters stare out from the canvas with piercing neutrality, confronting the viewer with an alien gaze worthy of their own unnatural presence; the Asian conception of oneness a stark contrast to the western value of individuality. In this portrait, a father and daughter are represented with perturbing similarity, their expressionless androgyny giving them a futuristic air of superiority that can be read as either spiritual enlightenment or malice.
Zhang Xiaogang
My Dream: Little General

2005

Oil on canvas

200 x 160 cm
Xiaogang’s figures, with their same-same appearance and expression, allude to a disturbing mass psychology. In My Dream: Little General Xiaogang’s image of a boy, dressed in military uniform and naked from the waist down, exemplifies the anxiety between public veneer and private vulnerability, official doctrine and personal conscience. Rendered with a patina aura, Xiaogang’s painting is both dreary and heroic, encapsulating the optimism of a bygone era and its hind-sight failures; the child a nostalgic emblem of corrupted innocence, trapped between the romantic aspiration of the model citizen ideal and its unattainable reality.
Zhang Xiaogang
Untitled

2006

Oil on canvas

200 x 260 cm
Xiaogang’s Untitled series magnifies uniformity to uncanny proportions. His paintings of faces, executed in monumental scale, are strangely macabre and dehumanised.
Zhang Xiaogang
Untitled

2006

Oil on canvas

200 x 260 cm
Framed with the mug-shot candour of extreme close-ups his figures lack any definitive features; they are the generic archetypes to which all Xiaogang’s figures aspire, triumphs of socially engineered conformity, interchangeable and anonymous.
Zhang Xiaogang
Untitled

2006

Oil on canvas

200 x 260 cm
With their visages masked in soft shadows and rendered slightly out of focus, Xiaogang heightens the sense of inconsequential identity; only the eyes are fully illuminated, hollow and clone-like, perfect identikit transplants hallmarking the succession of ductility over will.
Zhang Xiaogang
Comrade

2005

Oil on canvas

130 x 220 cm (Diptych)
Often restricted to a black and white palette, Xiaogang’s portraits translate the language of photography into paint. Drawing from the generic quality of formal photo studio poses and greyscale hues, Xiaogang’s figures are nameless and timeless: a series of individual histories represented within the strict confines of formula. In paintings such as Comrade, the occasional splotches of colour which interrupt his images create aberrant demarcations, reminiscent of birth marks, aged film, social stigma, or a lingering sense of the sitter’s self assertion.

Other Resources

the-artists.org
Modern and contemporary artists and art – Zhang Xiaogang

artfacts.net
Alternative information on Zhang Xiaogang

chinesecontemporary.com
The art of Sichuan province in south China is very different from the art from the politically charged atmosphere of the capital, Beijing. The Sichuan school is far more surrealist and subtly psychological that its northern counterpart. Zhang Xiaogang is the major artist of this school.

chinesecontemporary.com
Zhang Xiaogang is the major artist of the Sichuan school. He says he is an artist who engages in "inner soliloquies" and that his art is the flow of these soliloquies. Magritte has been a major influence on his work: "Magritte has taught me how to experience our heavy history from a certain distance and how to experience the capricious reality we have to face. At the same time I have learned how, with an 'internalised' language, to describe our life, show concern about the hearts that are often neglected and build an 'illusory kingdom' for our souls to rest in from time to time."

chinesecontemporary.com
A collection of images – Zhang Xiaogang

hanart.com
Between Reality and Illusion
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.

hanart.com
Zhang Xiaogang
Edward Lucie-smith

Chang Tsong-zung, in a catalogue note for Zhang's work, once remarked that "[the artist] is fascinated by the tensions between the forces of public life and individual privacy
In recapitulating the collective experience of violated privacy, Zhang has created convincing images of the suppressed psyche of China's recent past."

kwaipo.com
Zhang Xiaogang, born in Kunming in 1958, graduated from Oil Painting Department of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982. Known as a symbolist-surrealist and a member of the Avant-Garde movement, worldwide art historians noted that Zhang was influenced by Picasso and Dali. Now he works and lives in Beijing.

visualarts.gld
The rapid growth of consumerism in China during the 1990s caused Zhang Xiaogang to begin his series of paintings 'Bloodline: The big family'. In this series, the artist comments on a range of social issues related to the place of the individual within 'modern' Chinese society.

chinadaily.com
A Chinese painter's new struggle: to meet demand
By David Barboza
In a large warehouse studio on the outskirts of China's capital, Zhang Xiaogang was trying to explain how he goes about painting each day.
He said he liked to work deep into the night, smoking Chinese Honghe cigarettes, drinking herbal tea and listening to the music of "Buddha Cafe" or Air's "Talkie Walkie."