An exhibition of paintings and works on paper by artist Zhang Enli is now open at Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz. Unfolding across both floors of the gallery, ‘Zhang Enli. Looking Outwards’ showcases works from recent years, all connected through the artist’s remarkable use of line and colour.
The works on view are an invitation to look beyond oneself, onto the peripheries and off centre, and inspire us to see the world anew. Coinciding with the presentation in St. Moritz is Zhang Enli’s site-specific project ‘A Cheerful Person’ (2021) in Montabone, Italy for Art Mapping Piemonte—an art project launched by the Piedmont Region with the support of Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, produced by Fondazione Torino Musei and curated by Artissima.
Using his paintings to mirror the outside world, Zhang Enli documents the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life, often representing ordinary objects and individuals in his works. Though abstract in style with loose and free brushstrokes, his recent works are anchored in figuration with descriptive titles, such as ‘The Surgeon’ (2020) and ‘A Man Who Travels to Space’ (2021). In these outward looking paintings, Zhang Enli projects his impressions of individuals and recollections onto the canvas through colour, composition and mood. In the background of ‘A Man Who Travels to Space’ (2021), thin layers of blue colour culminate to form nebulae across the canvas that float amongst clusters of golden loops. In contrast to the subdued tones are striking spherical shapes in crimson and dark brown that resemble astronomical bodies. In this way, Zhang Enli does not depict an object or person as a truthful representation but instead, presents their essence.
The works on view, such as ‘A Melancholic Person’ (2019), exemplify Zhang Enli’s distinct abstract visual language. The artist’s expressive lines and curves are always underpinned by the structure of his pencil- drawn grids. Influenced by the washes of traditional Chinese brush painting, the artist dilutes his paint until it is almost like a glaze, leaving grids visible beneath the layers of paint. By allowing the pencil marks to show through the painted surface, Zhang Enli constantly reminds us that his paintings are artistic constructs, not direct representations of any given object or individual.
Sharing many of the same themes as the works on view in St. Moritz, Zhang Enli drew on the style of his gestural paintings to revitalise the exterior of the 18th-century Church of San Rocco in Montabone, Italy with a mural. Titled ‘A Cheerful Person’ (2021), the artwork borrows from the colours of the surrounding landscape and transforms the outside of the structure into an abstract smiling face, whimsically incorporating the flower-shaped window in the centre of its façade as its nose. Intended as a happy presence capable of bringing a smile to those who encounter it, Zhang Enli’s mural draws on the creativity of childhood and the ability to transform reality with the force of imagination.
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 often magnifies his subjects until a specific fragment of a scene is depicted, as if enlarged through the viewfinder of a camera. This technique is especially present in recent abstract works such as ‘The Garden,’ 2017.
Zhang EnliLooking Outwards
On view now through 10 September 2022 at Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz.