Zeng Fangzhi

Zeng Fangzhi
b. 1964, Wuhan, Hubei
Oil painter
A graduate of the Department of Oil Painting at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts (see art academies), Zeng Fangzhi exhibited his first series of paintings—triptychs of hospital interiors—in a solo-show at the Academy’s gallery in 1990. The expressionistic brushstrokes (inspired by the work of German expressionist Max Beckmann), the cool hue of pigments and the rough treatment of bloody tones laid the psychological foundation for his entire oeuvre and conveyed his pessimistic view of life and human weakness. Blood and exposed flesh appear as powerful metaphors in the series Meat (1992), evoking scepticism towards man’s freedom and dignity. The human propensity to violence is abstracted in portraits of exposed flesh on slaughtering tables, graphically reviving the theme of psychological wounding that recurs in Scar art. One year after moving to Beijing in 1993, Zeng began his signature series of masked portraits which made him a central figure in the artistic current known as Cynical Realism (Popi). In the earlier works of this series (1994–2000), the deterioration of interpersonal relationships in the process of modernization, as witnessed in the frantic urban milieu, is rendered by means of a grey palette, while human solitude is represented as individuals donning white masks with stereotyped expressions. Since 1997 landscapes have been added to the composition.
Zeng Fangzhi has exhibited extensively in international shows: ‘Out From the Middle Kingdom: Chinese Avant-Garde Art’ at the Santa Mónica Arts Centre in Barcelona (1995); ‘Quotation Marks’ at the Singapore Art Museum (1997); and ‘Paris-Pekin’ at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris (2002). In 1993 he was the subject of a ten-year retrospective at the Shanghai Art Museum.
‘Zeng Fangzhi fangtan lu’ [An Interview with Zeng Fangzhi]. Meishu shichang [Art and Market]: 8–10.
(2003). ‘I/We’ 1991–2003: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi (exhibition catalogue). Shanghai: Shanghai Art Museum.
Jin, Yan (2001). ‘Far, Fashionable and Restless’. Xiandai yishu [Contemporary Art] 10:68–70.
Leng, Lin (1998). It’s Me: A Profile of Chinese Contemporary Art in the 1990s (catalogue). Beijing: Contemporary Art Centre Co.
Li, Xianting (1998). Zeng Fanzhi by Beijing Art Critic Li Xianting. ShangArt Gallery website, available at http://www.shanghart.com (19 February).
Pi, Li (ed.) (1998). Zeng Fangzhi (exhibition catalogue). Beijing: Beijing Yumutang Design and Photography [with essays by Li Xianting, Feng Boyi, Peng De].

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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