In conversation with

In Conversation With: Zhang Zhiyong

Today we are honoured to publish an exclusive interview with contemporary Chinese artist, Zhang Zhiyong. Living and working in Beijing, Zhang’s canvases are visual representations of his attempt to cross the boundaries between fine art and art iconography through a plethora of flowing lines, dancing shapes, and pop art colours. Discover below his artistic research, influences, challenges and goals of being an emerging artist in one of the biggest art clusters in Asia.
17th November 2021 | Image Curators Advisory
Zhang Zhiyong, Untitled No 2, 2021, Oil on Canvas, 150×100cm. Credit: The Artist.

1.Zhiyong you have been living and working in Beijing for a while now, is that correct? As an artist, what do you like about the city? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community?

Yes, yes, indeed, for some years; I was planning to come to Beijing before I graduated from University, and [once I graduated], I achieved it.
As the capital of the country, the center of politics, economy and culture, Beijing is a dynamic arena for many artistic people, a place for many young people to aspire to live, and an ideal place to pursue their dreams.
As for the art scene, it is very difficult to say. At present the overall artistic atmosphere here is somewhat strange. You know, after a brief rollercoaster-like art boom [that happened during the] Olympiads, the overall artistic atmosphere has calmed down [now]. ​​I really hope that the next heyday [of the art scene in Beijing] will soon break through the haze and welcome a sunrise.

1.张志勇,你已经在北京生活和工作了一段时间,对吗?作为一个艺术家,你喜欢这个城市吗?你觉得那里的艺术场景怎么样?

没错,是的,确实已经有些年了;大学还没毕业,当时心里就谋划着将来有机会就要来北京发展,后来如愿以偿了。北京作为全国的首都,政治、经济和文化的中心,是很多艺术大家活跃的舞台,是很多年轻人期望的生活地,更是追求梦想的理想之地,我当然也不例外。

至于艺术场景嘛,真是一言难尽,目前这里整体的的艺术氛围有一些诡异。你知道的,经历了奥运周期的那种过山车似的短暂艺术高潮期后,整体的艺术氛围趋于平静,真的期盼下一个鼎盛时期能够早日冲破阴霾,迎来朝阳.


Zhang Zhiyong, Untitled No 10, 2021, Oil on Canvas, 150×100cm. Credit: The Artist.
I believe that contemporary and vibrant paintings should uphold the true essence of beauty of classical art, because I think it's a guide to the arts and the mind. It's a process that responds to nature. And I'm going to keep trying new ways to pursue the beauty of my art.
Zhang Zhiyong

2.Technology plays an important role in the creation of your paintings. Can you tell us more about your process?

"Technology and technique are the lifeblood of the artist." I remember that while I was studying at the China Academy of Art, every time a painting instructor talked about or directed our painting methods and techniques, would mention this phrase tirelessly. After experiencing the tempering of artistic life and the severe beating of society, I really understood what my mentor said. Ha ha ha, it seems a bit late.

My personal art creation process, to be honest, is difficult to articulate in a paragraph. The artistic process of each piece undergoes numerous iterations in my mind, with each idea taking over the other until the fittest survives to create the final artwork. I believe this is the most important step of the artistic process, first to select different means to obtain the same result, and secondly to choose the technique, painting and presentation according to the subject matter and theme. The combination of seriousness, vivacity, scrutiny, skepticism and criticism has made the process of creating every work of art "inconsistent," but it also shows the trace of my own artistic journey.

As for the meaning of the work, I hope to convey to the general public a sense of divergent, inclusive, varied and accessible thoughts; the space left for the audience to imagine is the extension of my work.

2.技术在你的绘画创作中扮演着重要的角色。请告诉我们有关你的艺术过程吗。
“技术、技法是艺术家的生命线”。记得在美院读书的时候,绘画导师每每谈及和指导我们绘画方式和技巧的时候,就曾不厌其烦地提及这句话,要我们在艺术创作过程中一定要认真思考。多年以后,自己走上了艺术从业之路,经历了艺术生活的磨练和社会的毒打之后,才真正明白了导师的话。哈哈哈,似乎觉悟得有些晚了。


我的个人艺术创作过程,说实话,很难用一段式的话术来表述清楚的。因为每一件作品的艺术创作过程,都经历了心理层面的“千锤百炼”和“丛林法则”的优胜劣汰式的思想斗争,这是艺术创作过程中我认为最重要的步骤之一,即选定那个“条条大路都能通向的罗马”,其次才是依据题材和主题去选择技法、画法和表现手法。严肃、活泼、审视、怀疑、批判,如此反复得综合穿插运用,使得每一件艺术作品的创作过程都“不一致”,但也都体现有我自己艺术心路旅程的痕迹。


至于作品所传达的含义,我希望能传达给大众一种发散的,兼容并蓄的,因人而异而又能够触手可及的那种思想碰撞之感;留给观众想象的空间,是我的作品所呈现出来的外延。


3.Your visual style has changed quite a lot, going from more classical painting to a vibrant and pop style with strong expressionist influences. What has influenced you and made you switch to your current visual narrative?
Is that true? In fact, my choice of style is classical, slightly serious, contemporary and vibrant paintings. Recently, I have read the philosophical works of some Western philosophers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, etc.), which has been a great inspiration for me. Classical paintings focus on the reason, on the attention to perfection of form and to the clarity and rigour of lines.

I believe that contemporary and vibrant paintings should uphold the true essence of beauty of classical art, because I think it's a guide to the arts and the mind. It's a process that responds to nature. And I'm going to keep trying new ways to pursue the beauty of my art.

3.你的风格发生了很大的变化,从更古典的绘画变成了充满活力和活力的。是什么影响了你现在的风格?
是吗?其实,古典的略微严肃的和当代的充满活力的绘画,都是我作品的风格选项。近一段时间以来,我拜读了一些西方哲学大师(柏拉图、亚里士多德、苏格拉底、黑格尔、尼采、马克思等)的哲学创作,对我启发很大。古典主义绘画偏重理性,注意形式的完美,重视线条的清晰和严整。我一致秉持着用古典艺术的那种“美的真谛”来进行现当代充满活力的绘画创作。我想这是一种艺术心灵的指引吧,是一种顺应自然的过程。我还会坚持尝试一些新的方式来追求我的艺术之美。

4.What are some of the artists and themes that influence you the most?
Good artists have a genuine intention and a sincere heart. For example, Giorgio Morandi’s still-life paintings can be viewed as human beings: the whole scene assembles just like a photograph of an entire family or a group photo of friends.
Picasso was conscious of looking carefully at the dust of his own studio. Master sculptor Henry Moore treated his devotion’s heat very carefully, etc. There is a description in the “Lofty Record of Forests and Streams” [1] about Chinese paintings:

"The mountains take water as their veins, grass as their hairs, and smoke as their gods. So the mountain is alive with water, the grass is magnificent, and the smoke is beautiful. The water takes the mountain as its face, the pavilion as its eye, and the fishing as its spirit. So the water is beautiful, the pavilion is bright, and the fishing has started. In this way the scenery is arranged".

This also reflects the philosophical realm of harmony between men and Nature in Chinese paintings. In fact, all things are spiritual and all things are one. Human nature is the same, although the Chinese and Western artistic expressions are different, however there is no difference in essence. The difference stands in the hearts and minds - too egoistic and too arrogant. In fact, there isn’t a single artist who has influenced me. I will learn to integrate and absorb any ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign works of art [within my practice].

[1] Linquan Gaozhi (Lofty Record of Forests and Streams) is a collection of notes written by the celebrated painter Guo Xi (c. 1020 – 1090) who describes with much detail the purposes and techniques of painting and is a valuable aid to understanding the landscape painting of the Northern Song dynasty.

4.对你影响最大的艺术家和主题是什么?
好的艺术家都具有一颗真诚心,平等心。例如:乔治·莫兰迪,他的静物可以当人一样去看待,整个画面组合就像是一张全家福或者是朋友之间的合影。毕加索,连自己工作室的一粒灰尘都认真去观察。雕塑大师亨利·摩尔,对待自热的那份虔诚心,等等;中国画论《林泉高致》中有一段描述:

“山以水为血脉,以草木为毛发,以烟云为神彩。故山得水而活,得草木而华,得烟云而秀媚。水以山为面,以亭榭为眉目,以渔钓为精神。故水得山而媚,得亭榭而明快,得渔钓而旷落。此山水之布置也.”

这也体现了中国绘画中“天人合一”的哲学境界。其实,万物有灵,万物一体。人性是相同的,虽然中西方艺术表现形式不一样,本质上没有差别。其实没有固定的某个艺术家影响我,古今中外艺术作品我都会去学习吸收融合。主题应该是自然和生命。因为人需要有敬畏心和真诚心。从整个绘画史来看,越往前的艺术作品越能体现出人对宇宙天地的敬畏心,而越往后越以自我为中心。


Zhang Zhiyong, Untitled No 11, 2021, Oil on Canvas, 150×100cm. Credit: The Artist.
In fact, all things are spiritual and all things are one. Human nature is the same, although the Chinese and Western artistic expressions are different, however there is no difference in essence.
Zhang Zhiyong
5.In the context of being an emerging artist in one of the current Chinese art clusters, how important is it for you to set yourself new challenges and goals for your career to keep up with a fast growing art market?
Challenges and goals - not only for those of us who make art, I believe that everyone has their goals in their hearts, their own challenges to face and cannot avoid. Socrates said, "The happiest thing in the world is to fight for dreams." I enjoy the happiness of my current artistic creation and, of course, I hope that my work will be accepted and recognised by the general public.

5.为一个新兴艺术家在一个当前的中国艺术集群的, 为你的职业生涯设置新的挑战和目标有多重要?
挑战和目标,不止对于我们进行艺术创作的人,我相信每一个人都有自己内心深处的小目标,都有自己需要面对且回避不了的挑战。苏格拉底说,“世界上最快乐的事,莫过于为梦想而奋斗。”我享受目前艺术创作带给我的快乐,当然更希望我的作品能够被大众所接受、所认可。
6.Do you have any upcoming projects?
In September and October, plans were made to create a collection of works with African cultural characteristics for an African embassy in China, because I have always dreamt of going to the African continent, where the open and wild natural ecology has a similar feeling to my inner pursuit of art.

I’m also creating sculptures as I hope to bring new and different art works to the public, presenting a diverse artistic experience.

6.你是否有即将进行的项目?
近期酝酿中的项目有点儿多。9、10月份计划为非洲某国驻华使馆创作一套与该非洲国家特色文化的作品。因为非洲大陆是我梦想着要去的地方,那里空旷狂野的自然生态,与我内心对艺术的追求有着相似相通的感觉。当然,同时也正在构思一些雕塑作品。希望能够给大众带来一些新的不一样的艺术类别作品,呈现多元化的艺术体验。
7.Where can we buy your work?
My work is currently concentrated in my Beijing studio. Interested friends can make an appointment to enjoy it. In addition, my good friend, Ms Fu Lang (Francesca Budini Gattai, co-founder of Image Curators Advisory) helps me with my promotion and agency work. Click here to find out more about my work.

7.艺术品收藏者在哪里可以买到你的作品?
我的作品目前集中在我的北京工作室里面,感兴趣的朋友可以预约前来欣赏;另外,我的好朋友茀朗女士也帮我在做推广和代理工作,找她也能接触到我的作品,了解更多的详情。

Zhang Zhiyong
Zhang Zhyiyong is a contemporary Chinese painter who plays with geometric shapes to create bright, colourful and captivating abstract oil paintings.

Born in Shanxi Province, China, in 1981, Zhyong studied Decorative
Design at the Taiyuan University of Technology and Textile Academy, where he graduated from in 2008.

Influenced by the abstract expressionism works of Jackson Pollock and Zhao Wou-ki, Zhang’s canvases are visual representations of his attempt to cross the boundaries between fine art and art iconography through a plethora of flowing lines, dancing shapes, and pop art colours.

Also interested in the latest technological trends, Zhang implements a series of digital tools during his creative process to create sketches and visual maps of each work, before meticulously reproducing the final compositions onto the canvases using oil paint. The energetic lines that overlap each other seem to disappear into the shapes and then appear again, in an eternal dance of bright colours and the artist’s imagination.

Zhang has exhibited in art galleries, art fairs and art centres both in Hong Kong and Beijing. In 2019, the artist had his first solo exhibition at the District A Art Center in Beijing.

Zhang Zhiyong is currently living and working in Beijing, China.

More Zhang Zhiyong's Artworks here.