Zeng Fanzhi is one of China’s most celebrated artists with his tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper selling for $23.3 million in 2013. Zeng’s works are famous for combining western and oriental influences, yet in an interview with the New York Times the artist spoke of returning to his roots and embracing Chinese culture. He stated that, “over time, I began to realize that traditional things have their own beauty.”
This change of perception comes as he is having a major retrospective exhibition in China, according to ABC News. Speaking to the news site Zeng spoke how he incorporates Chinese culture into his painting technique by using two brushes like the “Chinese master chopsticks”. He goes on to say how he uses one brush to paint and the other to destroy. His latest work is titled This Land so Rich in Beauty, a line of poetry from former Chinese leader Chairman Mao. His latest work is a statement on China’s propaganda art and a move away from the western styles that influenced his earlier work.
Fanzhi is now commenting on old propaganda art of the Mao era
Zeng Fanzhi’s combination of western and eastern styles is nothing new in culture. Combining two different philosophies has inspired many genres including literature, film, and games. Hollywood in particular has started catering its films more to Chinese audiences. One famous example of this was the hit film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Oscar winning director Ang Lee. The film was made in collaboration between American and Chinese productions companies. Speaking to Variety, one of the screenwriters on the film James Schamus spoke how he would write several drafts and pass them to his Chinese counterparts, and that this level of collaboration continued throughout the film. The resulting film was a huge success.
This incorporation of different styles is also used in more unusual mediums such as in videogames and comics. In a recent interview, character designer and artist Tyler Davis stated that he borrows from “an amalgamation of styles I’ve been exposed to over the years” when designing new games. Just like Zeng Fanzhi found, combining different styles has a positive effect on audiences and can takes art to another level of interest regardless of what industry or movement artists find themselves in.
Zeng Fanzhi was born in Wuhan in 1964 and grew up through the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong, an event that inspired many of his future works. Zeng has lived and worked in Beijing since 1993 and became one of the China’s most well known and respected artists. During his time at art school, the work of German expressionist painters inspired Zeng and he became famous for his paintings with large heads and hands.
Zeng’s move back to Chinese influences can be seen as a reflection of how the world views Chinese art and artists. The South China Morning Post reports that China and its art scene is maturing. Zeng’s retrospective is being held in Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) this October.