Zeng Fanzhi – Blue (2015)

He is one of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists. Blending Western art with Chinese calligraphy, Zeng Fanzhi’s art was initially heavily influenced by German Expressionism. More recently, Zeng started to branch out (pun intended) and embrace a more abstract style, all while bringing to fruition his signature motif – the amalgam of intertwining lines which is reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy.

We can notice that style in Blue, an abstract painting that shows silhouettes of jagged branches against a vibrant multi-shade blue background. This is what Zeng had to say about the painting:

“Before I started painting, I asked several assistants to collect different shades of blue from various regions. The blue you see on canvas is actually composed of more than 10 different colors: for instance, the shade of blue in the lower background and the shade of blue in the foreground are entirely different. According to Cézanne, if you want to accentuate bright colors, you need shadow to serve as their foil. Through this painting, I applied this theory into practice.”

Zeng Fanzhi - Blue
Zeng Fanzhi – Blue (2015), oil on canvas

We all bring our own projections when we look at abstract art. From the first moment I saw this painting, I thought about the barbed wire fences at Nazi concentration camps, separating husbands and wives, the living from the dead, the oppressed from the indifferent masses. I’m curious to know what you see.

20 thoughts on “Zeng Fanzhi – Blue (2015)

  1. thank you for this ….I’m going to think about the if you “want to accentuate bright colors, you need shadow to serve as their foil.” As for me I’m hidden in a cave ,vines, covering the opening, staring out on a pounding rocky surf. Kudos

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks for following my posts.
    I like this painting. It reminds me of an obscured view of the Southern ocean, where the ambivalence is in the frustration of the view being obscured, but the simultaneous heightened anticipation in suspecting that you are going to get a glimpse of an overwhelmingly spectacular coastline, or horizon, if you keep walking and looking.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Lol you are getting to know me too well 😂 I’ll have to break out my hardened exterior again. I’m an undercover romantic 😂 but yes I love the feel of this painting and how nature has been left to run its course

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It is an amazing challenge to see what others see in an abstract painting and how different and also beautiful their views are. I saw it as dark woods in a full moon night, felt like I was lost in dark woods and now that I see the light I’ve reached the edge of it and have survived.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely, haunting imagery you’re presenting. My partner saw something quite similar in it, a dark, enchanted forest.

      I’ve been pleasantly surprised by people’s reaction to the painting and their interpretations. It was my impression that abstract art intimidates and leaves viewers squirming for answers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry I haven’t noticed your reply ’till now!
        Totally agreed… Another thing that makes me love abstract art is that it’s beyond cultural backgrounds, it impacts everyone from any culture and age as it’s just forms coming from inside without representing any symbols.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t see this as abstract, or non-representational. As one commenter mentioned, the lines look like vines. In fact it looks just like the vines that climb the walls in China. I have photos I took in Chengdu that look like this.

    Notice that the artist has added lighting to each of the lines, coming always from the top and never from the bottom. This is 3D modeling. Rarely does an abstract painting elect to use naturalistic rendering techniques. Thus I see this as somewhere between abstraction and representation, evoking but not really depicting nature. The blue strongly suggests sky and water, as well.

    It’s obviously very well done, but I’d want to see more by the same artist before I could really get a handle on what he’s about.

    OK, just Googled him. Wow, some of the paintings are enormous. This one in particular. The artist standing next to it is the size of a beetle in comparison. There are some in the same style with animals and people in the background, including one with a tiger. There it’s really hard to escape the vines interpretation. He’s a serious artist and his paintings look like major achievements, some of them. There’s a bit of gimmick I’m not sure about, and “assistants” is a red flag for me. He makes giant things for the financially elite, and clearly panders to the high dollar (or yuan) market. He’s playing the game very well. I want to spend more time with his work, but I give him a B (super savvy and with all the means at his disposal one could hope for, but relying on gimmicks a bit and seeking success rather than vision).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “B”is not bad! If the scale is large enough aren’t assistants a must? Not that I can think of that many examples, but almost everyone hires assistants for large scale works. I was on the defensive about this initially too, but if this means more works, it’s a rather fair trade off.

      I think he hits a sweet spot between representation and abstract art, although he could have been a wee more abstract here. He certainly makes abstract art less intimidating for ordinary folks who might scratch their heads in disbelief otherwise.


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