Zeng Fanzhi is perhaps the most acclaimed of contemporary Chinese artists, as his consistent development of series, styles and techniques, has won him many admirers worldwide. His strong expressionistic qualities combined with his flair for abstractness influenced by traditional Chinese painting has given him an unique voice which is unmistakable. Each of his series of works has been met with both critical and general accolades. Always preoccupied with the internal world of his protagonists, Zeng is a master at exploring the dark experiences of the individual mind especially in a modern world of increasing alienation, loneliness and detachment. From his original "Hospital" and "Meat" series through his great "Mask" series, followed by the increasingly more abstract "After Mask Series" series and now to his "Grass" and "Landscape" series, Zeng has followed a path of deepening maturity and expression in relation to portraying inner turmoil.
In 2004, Zeng began to produce landscapes from which the present work comes. In his 'Sky' series, his portrayal of individuals continues his themes of detachment, loneliness and alienation, while the "Grass" series seems to offer some sort of redemption. Wild and chaotic strokes depict strong and vibrant grasses growing around mountains and blowing freely in the wind. It is as if Zeng is finally beginning to accept that his deep emotional inner turmoil and perturbations are something natural and part of nature, something not to be afraid of, something to be let loose and freed no matter how frightening, to be unconstrained and ultimately to be unmasked.
"Grass Series" is an astoundingly strong and atmospheric painting from Zeng's recent new creations. It depicts dark and disturbing grasses growing menacingly on a hill at night with moonlight dappling the ground. The wild grasses dramatically intertwine around each other as they weave luxuriantly around a dark brooding mountain set against a twilight blue sky. Zeng has moved away from his earlier expressionism and has moved closer to the abstractness and spiritualism of traditional Chinese art. The grasses are strong and chaotic in dark colors, almost net like, or a wild plant in our nightmares entangling and ensnaring us. The dark colors of the brooding mountain add further to a sense of uneasiness. However, the dappled moonlight falling on the grasses in the foreground and on the ground evoke light and calmness suggesting that we do not need to fear to enter. They serve almost as a welcoming light, a beacon showing us the way home. While our emotions and feelings as represented by the grasses are chaotic and frightening, they are not something we need to repress or run away from. As night falls, the grasses are strong, vigorous and vibrant, perhaps like our deepest emotions and thoughts.
Zeng's masterful brush strokes add to the heightened sense of power and emotion. They are indicative of his free flowing and subconscious painting style, allowing his moods and emotions to flow onto the canvas. Zeng uses two brushes held in one hand between different fingers to create his chaotic, wild strokes. Just as with a pair of chopsticks, one brush is held firmly with three fingers while the second one moves freely between two fingers. The first one creates deliberate thought out strokes, the second follows, freely creating whatever lines it wants. The first stroke is like our conscious, controlled thoughts, the second stroke like our wild, uncontrolled emotions allowing Zeng to create an abstract landscape of our inner psychological state. This psychological state is further represented by the dappled moonlight juxtaposed with the dark, mysterious hill covered in wild vigorous grasses. Calmness and turmoil are wonderfully rendered.
Zeng's brush technique has created a new representational language combining the logical and irrational. The logical mind sits side by side with the unconscious, intuitive and emotional mind, just as the two brushes sit side by side in the hand. The deep linear marks stroked into the surface of the painting draw attention to the surface of the painting and the chaotic nature of the grasses. This is highly reminiscent of the abstract calligraphic representational techniques of ancient Chinese art. This combination of the rational and irrational is central to Zeng's themes, and his matching of technique with subject lends a special vibrancy and life to his paintings, which is highly lauded.
Zeng Fanzhi's oeuvre charts a major exploration of the emotional and psychological state of the artist in an alienating and chaotic society. Zeng's unique voice is the true voice of an artist as he expresses his innermost turmoil and deep emotional disturbances.