Rendered in the thinnest grey pigments over chalky white backgrounds, Zhang Yuan’s scenes are more apparitions than articulated forms. Transient, diffused, dripping as if still wet, Zhang’s paintings convey a dream-like state, where unrelated images converge as subconscious narrative suggestions, creating their own associations and tangents through the viewer’s instinctive response.
That Zhang works from found photographs adds a layer of mystery to his ephemeral compositions. Presented as a series of ’‘montaged’ vignettes rather than a unified whole, portraits, landscapes, and industrial scenes mingle without fixed place or context, their familiar anonymity appropriated directly from the vague-ities of collective memory. Zhang’s spontaneous illustrative style, however, lends itself more to film: his random images flit in and out of focus, hinting at just enough detail to give an impression before melting away into the next; his fragmented subjects allude to a sense of non-sequential time.
For Zhang, it isn’t the images or their potential meaning that is of interest, but rather the opportunities they present for painterly negotiation and embellishment. Zhang uses his medium with the fluency of a master. His brushstrokes embody a calligraphic elegance, encapsulating each sentiment with an economic shorthand: a dab of white transforms a cartoon face to a realistic figure, smoke is instantly created with one sooty squiggle, and an abbreviated line can be anything from a boat, to a horizon, or a leg. The intrigue of Zhang’s work lies in this delicate balance between representation and imagination, that misty area where new ideas are emerge between appetence and cognition.