Chinese Beauty Inspires Artist Zhang Xiuzhu

As Time Goes By - Theatrical Life No.18, Paintings, 59 x 79
The renowned Chinese painter Zhang Xiuzhu is an artist totally enamored of the Asian feminine mystique in the series that he calls “As Time Goes By –– Theatrical Life.” In the West, the phrase “As Time Goes By”  immediately evokes the haunting lyrics and melody that accompanied the doomed romance of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann in the classic film “Casablanca.” But apparently the phrase had its origins in the Ming Dynasty play “The Peony Pavilion” and was later used in the great 18th century Chinese novel “A Dream of Red Mansions.”
    Both project the romantic “theatrical” image of Chinese women in ornate garb that inspires Zhang Xiuzhu in the series. At first glance, his large oils on canvas could appear to be abstract expressionist, with towering vertical forms splashed and slapped onto the bare white canvas priming in vigorous strokes, much in the manner of the American artist Norman Bluhm, whose paintings are influenced by Chinese ink painting. Zhang began his career working in the traditional medium of ink on paper before taking up oils as a medium. In fact, he still works in his original medium at times and says, “Whether I am working in ink wash, line drawings, sculpture or oil painting, the techniques and expressions I employ are traditional spiritual expressions of Chinese style. For me the only difference is just the materials. I have developed the ability to freely and naturally transform the spirit of Eastern art expression and technique to a form of contemporary expression.”
    Zhang, who is apparently well versed in Western as well as Eastern art, draws contrasting comparisons in his conception of women to that of de Kooning, which he characterizes as “violent deconstructing, tearing up, squeezing and then hanging up.” And indeed, although created in a manner resembling the Western style for which critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting” in the 1950s (which actually dates  to the ancient Zen  painters of China and Japan, who splashed ink freely several  centuries before), Zhang’s own strokes are more lyrical than violent. Centralized discretely against the pure white ground, Zhang’s towering figures have the majesty of the mountain peaks in traditional Chinese painting, although the many strokes of vibrant reds, blues, and yellows with which the figures take shape also reminds one of buoyant floral bouquets.
    On closer inspection, however individual features can often be discerned in the faces of his figures, although some are more linearly defined than others. In “As Time Goes By –– Theatrical Life No. 18,” for example, the woman’s eyes are clearly defined, as are her breasts and their prominent nipples –– as though she (or a lover) has opened the bodice of her ornate costume to reveal them. Indeed, in the initial work in the series, “As Time Goes By  –– Theatrical Life No.O1,” the woman’s entire torso is nude, but for a string of colorful beads, as though she is in the process of donning or removing her colorful garment, which hangs off her body in all its floral glory, as elaborately embellished in its own way as the robes of Gustav Klimt’s Art Nouveau ladies.
    Zhang Xiuzhu’s exhibition in Chelsea introduces American art audiences to an artist in the vanguard of the New Chinese Painting.
–– written by Maurice Taplinger   

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