Firstsite, Colchester, presents Gesture and Form, a major solo exhibition by acclaimed Chinese artist Zhang Enli.
The presentation marks the start of the gallery’s year-long focus on identity; a key component of Zhang’s artistic practice, from his depictions of commonplace objects, such as cardboard boxes, to his observations of the ordinary rituals of everyday life.
Gesture and Form is comprised of ten works in oil, as well as a ‘Space Painting’, a monumental, site-specific installation that will be created by Zhang over a 16-day period before the show which opened on March 11th, 2017, remaining at the gallery for one year before being ‘unmade’.
The Firstsite commission will see Zhang cover the gallery’s 140-metre curving wall with swathes of pulsating colour, washed, scrubbed and stroked into place with expressive brushstrokes. The scale of the work, which sees the artist deliberately blurring his abstract and figurative practices – many Chinese and British trees will be featured – draws the viewer into an imaginary environment, inviting them to consider not just the spectacle of the painting, which is rendered in watercolour, but also the aesthetic enquiries behind its creation.
Zhang began this series in 2007 – other works have been seen at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), and the Muse Duarte Contemporaneity di Villa Croce, Genoa – with the aim of challenging and ultimately conflating the relationship that exists between an artwork and the space it inhabits.
The same stylistic trajectory of the ‘Space Painting’ is manifest in the ten figurative and abstract paintings that feature in the show. The figurative works are inspired by the painter and calligrapher Jin Nong (1687-1764) whose own depictions of branches and blossoms, like Zhang’s, often waved in the wind. Rendered in oil, the artist’s mark- making is invariably underpinned by a faint, pencil-drawn grid. This structures the rapid expressionistic gestures, coiled tendrils, perforated sheets and majestic tree trunks that are depicted.