Zhang Enli, 'The Branches (4)', 2015, Oil on canvas, 200 x 180 cm. © Zhang Enli

Zhang Enli: Four Seasons

  • 8 Mar – 21 Jun 2015

This resource has been produced to accompany the exhibition, ‘Zhang Enli: Four Seasons’, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

This resource has been produced to accompany the exhibition, ‘Zhang Enli: Four Seasons’, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. About Zhang Enli Zhang Enli was born in 1965 in Jilin, China. In 1989, he graduated from the Arts & Design Institute of Wuxi Technical University and relocated to Shanghai where he was a teacher at the Arts & Design Institute of Donghua University until 2008. Zhang Enli remained largely overlooked during the post-socialist Chinese art boom of the 1990s, escaping the hype of his more fashionable Chinese contemporaries, such as Yue Minjun or Ai Weiwei. He is continuing to gain recognition for his work internationally. What inspires his work? Zhang Enli is interested in forgotten spaces and ordinary objects. Zhang draws us into his world, documenting the more commonplace aspects of contemporary life, for example a tree or a rope. Each picture, he says presents a trace of human action, he describes that he deals with reality but by using paint he expresses something that goes beyond reality, particularly evoking memories. What does his work look like? His paintings depict quiet or understated images of objects or places from everyday life. In Four Seasons there are 18 paintings, all of a similar size depicting water, trees and tree trunks. Influenced by the loose washes of traditional Chinese brush painting, Zhang Enli dilutes his paint until it is almost like a glaze, leaving pencil-drawn grids visible beneath the layers of paint. By allowing the grids to show through the painted surface, Zhang constantly reminds us that his paintings are artistic constructs, not direct replicas of any given subject. What are his main themes? In his paintings, Zhang creates an index of commonplace objects related to humanity. Taking visual material from whatever is close at hand – a piece of string, a hose, a marble ball from the floor of his studio; everyday objects from contemporary life. The title of this exhibition is Four Seasons and the theme is landscape: water and trees.

Zhang Enli, 'The Water (1)', 2015, Oil on Canvas, 300 x 250 cm. © Zhang Enli

How does he make his work? Zhang’s paintings are rarely produced from direct observation, but from sketches, photographs and, significantly, from his memories of the objects he is depicting. The muted tones and thin application of paint make the objects seem not quite present, as if occupying an imagined reality where only the essence of the object is depicted on the canvas. His subject matter is usually enlarged, so that only a specific fragment of a scene is shown, as seen through the viewfinder on a camera. Often in his paintings there is a visible grid this is a common technique when enlarging photographs, however this is the opposite of his practice; his depictions are not accurate depictions of his subjects like a photograph but often painted from memory. Does he work in any other ways? In his ‘Space Paintings’, Zhang paints directly onto the walls of a room to create nostalgic environments. These range from the abstract, where colour and gesture recall sights and sounds of a particular place, to figurative reproductions of redundant, empty spaces. Zhang renders mould, dirt and stains which climb the walls and spill onto the floor, often alongside marks left by furniture or picture frames – all remnants of human interaction with a room which was once inhabited and is now deserted. His ‘Space Paintings’ depict a kind of negative space, as the viewer uses the marks and absence of objects to re-create presence through imagination. For ‘The Box’, Zhang’s second exhibition with Hauser & Wirth in London, he presented his first-ever sculptural installation, a more intimate and completely immersive version of a ‘Space Painting’ by painting the inside of a freestanding plywood box. Whilst Zhang’s paintings on canvas are broadly representational, the narrative element of the ‘Space Paintings’ is determined by the viewer. Zhang’s painting acts as a catalyst for the viewer’s imagination, and for personal narratives which emerge whilst walking through the painting installation. For the Four Seasons exhibition, Zhang Enli spent time at Hauser & Wirth Somerset and has produced a Space Painting inspired by the landscape in Somerset. This can be found painted directly onto the walls between the Rhoades and Bourgeois galleries. What other artist’s work does it relate to? Although Zhang Enli’s work has a very strong association with Chinese brushwork he also acknowledges Western influences from Manet to Francis Bacon. The use of thin paint, which he sometimes allows to drip, is reminiscent of Luc Tuymans and Marlene Dumas.

Zhang Enli, 'The Tree Stump', 2015, Oil on canvas, 280 x 230 cm. © Zhang Enli

Glossary Chinese Brushwork The Relationship between Calligraphy and Painting: Long before the Chinese invented paper in the first century B.C.E., they devised the round brush, which is used for both writing and painting. The unique versatility of the Chinese brush lies in its tapered tip, which is composed of a careful grouping of chosen animal hairs. Through this resilient tip flow the ever-changing linear qualities of the twin arts of the brush: calligraphy and painting. Since painting and calligraphy share many of the same materials and techniques, the relationship between the two art forms has always been a close one in China. In addition to using common materials, calligraphy and painting have long been thought of as springing from the same creative source and requiring the same technical skills in execution. Landscape In art, a landscape is a depiction of a view of natural scenery such as a seascape or mountains. Landscape painting has a long history both in Western and Chinese painting.

Zhang Enli, 'Trees in the Wind', 2014, Oil on canvas, 300 x 250 cm. © Zhang Enli

Suggested activities during your visit Note: you will need to bring pencils and a sketchbook Activity 1 Make a circle shape by putting your thumbs and fingers together; this is your viewfinder. Look through your viewfinder at parts of the exhibition, from close up and far away. Find the view you find most interesting and draw it into a circle. Activity 2 Zhang Enli’s paintings explore paint in both a fluid and controlled way. First hold you pencil at the end and draw the trees with a very fluid mark, then contrast this with a drawing made by holding your pencil with a firm grip, as if your were going to write and try drawing the tree trunks. Activity 3 Without looking at your paper, eyes only on one of the paintings in front of you, explore what you see by making one continuous pencil line. Or you could focus on close-up sections of a painting and make several sketches of different parts of the work, how can your sketches communicate how Zhang made his painting? Practical activity prompts & ideas for discussion following your visit Key Stage 1 and 2 How can you make a painting of water? Produce a series of paintings made with different methods. You could pour, drip or splash the paint onto a surface. You could try applying a thick paint and sraping it away or using masking tape to make shapes, painting over it then peeling the tape away to reveal white marks. Key Stage 3 Make your own space-painting. Using a box or constructing your own, imagine it was a space that you could enter and paint the inside, make a model of yourself and put it inside the box, seal the box and make a viewing hole. Key Stage 4 and beyond

  • Zhang Enli is a Chinese artist – can you recognise a cultural identity in his work? Discuss what you

  • Memories are important to Zhang Enli, in what ways do you think paintings can evoke memories?

  • What emotions do you get from seeing his work?

  • Zhang Enli paints ordinary objects – can the everyday be beautiful?