‘Sometimes, the obscured object also creates a trace with the passing of time. This is the origin of my recent abstract paintings. When I look at a wall, or sky, it is full of traces, and then I name these traces after someone; it becomes very interesting, it is visible yet invisible.’
Using the outside world as a mirror, Zhang Enli often documents the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life. Titled ‘Faces’, the inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s new location in Hong Kong features new paintings by the artist. These gestural canvases reflect Zhang Enli’s progression to looser, freer brushwork that has become prominent in his style in recent years and reveal the artist’s compelling and continued exploration into abstract form.
Zhang Enli was the first Asian artist to join Hauser & Wirth in 2006 and he has exhibited widely, both regionally and internationally, including at the gallery’s spaces in New York, London, Somerset and Zurich. ‘Faces’ is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery in Asia.
The exhibition in Hong Kong focuses on Zhang Enli’s expressive new possibilities. While anchored in figuration with descriptive titles, Zhang Enli seeks to capture the ‘essence’ of his subjects rather than their physical representation through these works.
New paintings for the exhibition such as ‘A Guest from Afar’ (2023), ‘Melon Farmers’ (2023) and ‘Art Museum Director’ (2022) are made with a diverse palette and application – dynamic brushstrokes are overlaid with colourful spheres, indicating a unique style in the artist’s painterly aesthetic. In these works, Zhang Enli projects his own concerns and recollections onto the canvas, fusing the real and the imagined, in highly personal impressions.
Literature has had a lasting influence on Zhang Enli’s creative practice, in particular ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ by Sherwood Anderson, which he first encountered in college in 1985. Anderson’s depictions of characters, detailed observations and the desire to see beneath the surface of life, has reminded the artist of his own experience and memories with his family, and drawing his attention to the fate of ‘the ordinary people’. The ‘faces’ of the characters are no longer important, they became a symbol, leaving traces of their identity and life stories in the artwork titles.
‘A Man Reading ‘The Castle’’ (2023) refers to ‘The Castle’, the last novel by Franz Kafka, who died before he finished the book. This sense of mystery and uncertainty within the book, as well as for humanity at large, has remained a constant source of inspiration for the artist, who has revisited the work countless times.
Using the outside world as a mirror, Zhang Enli documents the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life. He regularly works with everyday objects that he is instinctively drawn to, for example a piece of string, a hose, or even a marble ball from the floor of his studio. Zhang Enli...
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