Top Chinese Artist Part Ⅲ Zhang Xiaogang
Ichii: This attractive statue of girl reminds me of a terra-cotta figure. The colors look like ceramics painting.
Zhang: This was actually before getting polished to paint. I left it on purpose because I liked it a lot.
Ichii: You are sensitive to lights. This work looks like it is between light and shadow.
Zhang: Right. I am planning to have a bright side on my new work because this statue inspired me.
Ichii: Your works tell me that Chinese traditional culture is in your soul.
Zhang: That is natural, isn’t it? One third of what consists myself is Chinese tradition.
Ichii: What are the rest then?
Zhang: Influence of Western culture and Socialism.
Ichii: That sounds like The Trinity of socialism, western culture and Chinese tradition.
Ichii: I am impressed with this painting of Japanese apricot. There is a book lightened up with a flashlight under the tree. A light like moonlight lightens up a book that represents history. Branches that look like veins are running through left to right.
Zhang: The theme of this work is ‘oblivion’, which is my important theme. I have been interested in the paradox between ‘remembrance’ and ‘oblivion’; you tend to forget when you want to remember, while you dream when you want to forget it.
Ichii: That is exactly right. I cannot tell whether this apricot has just bloomed or it has bloomed for a long time. There seems to be two different time zones in this painting.
Ichii: The black and grey on the background look like a river of time.
Zhang: Yes. You go beyond space-time due to putting a man in the room outside. What I expressed here is a space inside of people. You can sometimes go beyond space-time without practical sense when you try to put the reality into another space.
Ichii: I cannot tell whether I am looking with or without a distance due to its strange perspective. It is scary, but nostalgic. This is your special feature. It also seems that you unconsciously want an immortal hometown.
Zhang: Creating artworks is same as dreaming to me. I am not sure when it started and when it ends.
Ichii: I also liked “The 4th for A Week Private Note”, but later works are better. Works before going to Germany are more personal, while later ones have a power to heal and help people.
Zhang: Right, I have been trying to mix my personal stuff into public.
Ichii: You got married when you were around 30 years old, in 1988. Your works look like honeymoon around then; however, our works dramatically changed after Tiananmen Square incident, didn’t they?
Zhang: That was a definite change. My works have several steps; I was working on a theme of ‘pain’ from 1984 through 1986 inspired with western culture and philosophy. Then I started to study eastern philosophy and Chinese art history after I read a book written by D. T. Suzuki. And there was a dreamy stage from 86 to 89.
Ichii: Shangri-La, Yunnan, the place you were born seems to be deeply inside of you.
Zhang: I am not sure, but probably. One high-minded person told me that I should get a power from nature, not from knowledge or books.
Ichii: I think Yunnan is such a special place where is 1,890 meters above sea level and close to Tibet or Vietnam.
His Mom and Daughter
Zhang: For me, memories of youth are stronger than childhood. I always recall old times that I was 8 or 9 years old when I make a painting of mother and child. For example, the one with mother staring at her son is what I remember myself looking at my mom.
Ichii: Does your mother paint too?
Zhang: No, but I guess I inherited a lot of things from my mom; art could be one of them. She used to like humanities when she was young. Her weird way of thinking inspired me. I have been thinking that she was different from others. My dad told me that my mom had a mental illness when I was 10; however, it was too complicated to understand for me at that time. Thus, I read a book written by Freud to help myself understood. She influenced my mind that all the figures of women in “Bloodline-Big Family” are what I painted from my mom. What impressed me first when I saw some old photos was a figure of my mom. She was beautiful and elegant. I wondered why she changed like that.
Ichii: So that was the origin of your inspiration.
Zhang: Exactly. And my daughter, too. Figures of women are from my mom, and children are from my daughter.
Past and Present
Ichii: You seem to be totally opposite from Ai Weiwei.
Zhang: Yes, I do not like to have a connection with societies. I want to keep a certain distance even though it is impossible to have no connection with them as long as you live in a reality; however, to express social problems with artworks is necessary as a Chinese contemporary artist. This is my socialist side, the one third of what consists myself.
Ichii: Sima Qian wrote “Records of the Grand Historian”, a history with his skeptical point of view based on what he experienced. You deeply went into the world of it, and produced a newborn with no residence, which is your “Records of the Grand Historian” series. That is your paradox between you and societies. You are also raising a question toward Chinese societies. It is mysterious to me.
Zhang: What is written on “Records of the Grand Historian” is a history of rulers and big incidents; on the other hand, the series that I made are about a history of one ordinary person. I have several works whose theme are a newborn baby and its history; a newborn represent a present and a future, and a history represents the past. I want to insist the relation between them. Chinese people tend to like to talk about it. Since China is dramatically developing nowadays, any recent incidents turn out the past quickly. Memories should be what we have as the past.
Ichii: A new event disappears as a memory.
Zhang: “Records of the Grand Historian” by Sima Qian definitely is an old book; nevertheless, what I exhibited at “Records of the Grand Historian” Exhibition was what we used to use a couple of decade ago. Due to the quick change of environments, we have got fragmentary memories.
Ichii: That is a dark side of quick development. I understand that you are sensitive that you even have a memory of plants around you. While people get used to destroying memories, artists joint all the fragments of them. I realized your precious value as an artist.
Zhang: There are greater men than me in this world though!