Zeng Fanzhiâ€™s paintings are immediately recognisable by their signature expressionistic style, an effect that lends provocative sensations of underlying violence, psychological tension, or supernatural aura to his lavishly rendered canvases.
With subjects ranging from portraits and rural landscapes to politically charged motifs, Zeng infuses the everyday veneer of shared experience with an ambience of transgression, reflective of both the rapidly changing terrain of contemporary Chinese culture and the negotiation of personal identity within this societal flux.
Zengâ€™s magnificent landscapes express the vast conceptual gulf between individual cognition and the actuality of environment. Painting with two brushes simultaneously, Zeng uses one to describe his subject, while the other meanders the canvas, leaving traces of his subconscious through processes. Through this combination of painterly realism and â€™automaticâ€™ expression, Zengâ€™s landscapes are transformed into near abstract fields; the depicted people and places merging both memory and imagination.
Overlaying the image of Beijing’s infamous landmark with an iconic portrait of Mao, Zeng’s Tiananmen directly confronts China’s tenuous relationship with its recent history. Using bright bold colours, Zeng’s painting resolves as a discomforting composite of irony and optimism, fusing the veneration of revolutionary heroicism with the uncertainty of a rapidly developing future. The surface of Zeng’s painting is brought to life with a frenzied network of brush marks, replicating the inarticulate calligraphy of muffled sentiment, or the galvanisation of repressed anxiety. The figure of Mao dominates the scene, a lingering ghost presiding over popular consciousness.
Zeng’s Hospital Series is of his earliest work, and exemplifies his correlative approach between painting and psychology. His A&E waiting room is portrayed with overwhelming banality and trauma: muted tones replicate the staleness of public space, the milling crowds in the background appear hazy and remote, while rusty washes pour over the canvas replicating blood, sorrowful and repugnant. Sat centre stage are a distraught patient and cavalier doctor, juxtaposed as human anguish and the white-coated horror of bureaucracy. Their heads and hands are aggrandised to painful and clumsy scale in grotesque parody of thought and action.
We n:2 operates simultaneously as portrait and abstraction. The extreme close up of a face is uncomfortably large, its beatific features becoming imposing and oppressive. Zeng obliterates this image with a mesh of ringlet patterns. Scribbled out, barred by a defective ’screen’, the effect is continuous and mesmerising, describing an impossibility of intimate articulation and knowledge, a jumbled poetry in their imperative gesture. As Zeng’s brush marks trace through the figure, colours are dragged and repositioned, creating a ghost image, echoing multiplicity and technological distortion.