In June 2006, famous French Enterprise, Martell presented an "Artist of The Year"award at National Art Museum of Art in China, Zhang Xiaogang was one among other three to to receive an award, and he was praised as a contemporary oil painter with eyes that stare from inside. Indeed, Zhang is no doubt one of the most brilliant artist in the China avant-garde movement, he has been active in the contemporary art scene in 1980, some say he's the artist who had witnessed the history, he projected the development of art within the last 20 years in China. Western media gave him a new name recently - "top-selling painter" When New York Times interviewed him last year, they have talked about that his work supply is unable to meet the demand. Spring this year, he set a record of nearly one million US dollars which is groundbreaking, and this made him world famous artist.
Collectors throughout the world kept chasing Zhang's work, there are almost no paintings by him on the market now. His works are now collected by international organizations as well, including Guggenheim Museum in New York, foundations and museums in England, The Netherlands and France, even the famous movie director, Oliver Stone is one of his collector. Due to his paintings are political controversial, he was prohibited to exhibit in the past, however, authoritative agencies are promoting his works with effort now, the disregard of the government had resulted his collectors came from mostly the rest of the world. The galleries, museums run by the authority nowadays and some wealthy Chinese are starting to collect his works. Even though the demand grew from everywhere, he still works on his own in his studio in Beijing, with no assistant. His persistence towards his works remain the same, it is a fact that his "Bloodline" series received worldwide success, he's still moving on to create new works, and his early works becomes rare and hard to come by.
The most sorrowful decade in the modern history in China is that time during the Cultural Revolution, citizens from that generation was slaughtered without mercy. Zhang was born in 1958, when the revolution begins he was only 8 years old, he witnessed the era of the White Terror in his childhood, he was born in a government officer's family, many came to his home to beg for forgiveness. When his parents are in exile, he was sent to one of his relatives for temporary care. His mother taught him to paint because she was worried about him getting troubles, make him study to sketch, to imitate comics and to try to paint heroic scenes during the Sino-Japanese War. At the latter stage of the revolution he was exiled to a village in Yunnan, and was reeducated by farmers of the lower class, these experiences are now printed deeply in his memories.
Zhang received formal education and graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, He learned from Soviet paintings and was also attracted by western art, and he adores Van Gogh, Gauguin and Dali. Therefore, for quite a long period his works are under the influences of expressionism and surrealism. In 1980, Zhang was obsessed with ethnic minority subjects, like the portraits of Tibetan and Uygurians; at the beginning of 1990, he created some works to reflect the June 4 Tien-An-Men Event's impact to the era. He once suffered by hypochondria and alcohol, tried to find a way out of art, find his own location; for six years he painted works all about death, he felt that his life is a miserable lie, until 1992 the disembarrassment of the authority, that was his turning point in life.
He went to Germany that year and inspired by artist Gerhard Richter's photographical paintings, thus given up his western painting style. When he went back to China, he decided to present works with Chinese emotions, he found some family pictures during the 60's and 70's, saw the depression in his eyes inside the picture, and wanted to express the connections between family members. In 1993 he painted the first "Bloodline"series picture, black and white portrait, with very few other colors for decoration. At the beginning, he paints that tradition "Big Family"image, tried to imitate those group pictures at the photo shop in the old days, to reflect an illusion created by people in a particular era, the color blocks on each one's face reflects their trails of pain, they are the symbols of the bloodline, connected to each other, and that was the history which Chinese mutually shared back in the 60's and 70's.
The works in the "Bloodline"series kept breaking through, family members in stiff Chinese tunic suit transformed from surreal to mellifluence, now every one of them looked the same, it's an image merged with the artist's imagination and the image of his mother. Zhang wanted to make everyone of the looked the same, because at one point in the Chinese history, every family actually looks the same. In 1998, his black and white portraits gradually moved out of the big family, they evolved into individual portraits, they still wear that Chinese tunic suit, and their looks are very similar, the artist called this set of painters "Comrade" "Comrade"s an irreplaceable word in China 20 or 30 years ago, it means having the same objective and being loyal to the leadership, lovers during that time even called each other "Comrade my love? "Comrade"has been forgotten at present, Zhang brought up this piece of old memories, and created "Bloodline: Comrade"
This piece "Bloodline Series: Comrade No.17" was finished in 1998, it's one of Zhang's early Comrade Series of works; it had participated many important international exhibitions, and could be one of the most representative works of the artist. One of the highlights of the exhibitions it participated was the Kwangju Biennale in Korea in 2000, Zhang's work was introduced in the catalogue:"...The surface of his painting has become filled with a monochrome, desolate atmosphere, and his work has possessed cold, lonely, pure, imitative, and pop elements, which give his desolate and vast mood more intensity. The photo-like style of his work using pop art methods reminds us of consciousness which is we share before, and recreate the lively moment at the time."
After the Kwangju Biennale, it tour exhibited in Japan, it was also one of the three pieces of works that participated the "Chengdu Movement" joint exhibition held by Canvas Foundation held in The Netherlands, and Zhang became an important artist in the movement. One of the planners of the exhibition, Martin Kielstra, when introducing Zhang's work, he mentioned: "In Zhang Xiaogang's family portraits the monochrome grey is interrupted by patches of colour on faces, or completely coloured faces and red bloodlines connecting the family members. Xiaogang's suggestion is that nobody escapes the history of his ancestors. But what is especially intriguing about his paintings are the eyes. The portraits appear covered by a layer of dust, but the eyes are clear and give the portrayed figures their identities. This contrast gives the work its deeper meaning." (Quoted from: Martijn Kielstra, 'The Visual Power of the Chengdu Movement.' Introduction of the exhibition.)
In either art market or academic position, Zhang's "Comrade" has received lots of people's affirmation, and this made him one of the leading artists in the China art scene, and pushed him to the peak of his artistic career.