Born 1964, Wuhan, Hubei, China
Lives and works in Beijing
As a young man Zeng Fanzhi was impressed by European expressionist painters and much of his early painting was overtly expressionistic. He was born just before the start of the Cultural Revolution and his experiences as a somewhat troubled child during those times have influenced his view of the world and therefore his art ever since. But Zeng Fanzhi is not a painter of social realist critiques. His art is an account of the individual and the individual’s separation from the crowd. He is best known for the series of mask paintings that he undertook exclusively between the years from 1994 to 2000. Figures look out from these canvases, their faces concealed behind the same stylised masks, a clear reference to the disparity between man’s inner nature and metaphorical masks worn to face the world. Frequently the characters in these paintings wear little red neckerchiefs awarded to Young Pioneers as a mark of revolutionary fervour. Despite his exemplary behavior as a young boy, Zeng Fanzhi was never awarded one and he has compensated for this over and over again in his paintings. More recently, the masks and neckerchiefs have gone but the solitary figure remains, now often placed in a gestural landscape. In these recent paintings, Zeng uses up to five brushes at a time in one hand. He controls one while the others freely make marks across the painting’s surface. The vigour of Zeng Fanzhi’s brush strokes partially conceal the figure but the sense of solitude and separateness remains.