As his career and technique evolved from China to the U.S., Zhang Shaoyuan’s latest contemporary collection is a mirror of a true artist seeking to capture the singular complexities of life through portraits. Zhang began his career as an artist at the age of 17. As a volunteer for the Red Guard, he was sent to the countryside for eight years of re-education.
When he wasn’t toiling away in the rice fields or mine shafts, he created monoprints by carving on blocks of bamboo. Inspired by his environment, Zhang produced Cultural Revolution propaganda art, glorifying unified labor and depicting the unfussy and solitary life of farmers.
Under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, China underwent dramatic economic and social changes and Chinese art began to flourish beyond propaganda. In the late 1980s, as budding contemporary artists began to emerge in China, Zhang moved to the U.S. to study western techniques. The artist’s time in Utah also led Zhang to periods of isolation in the southern Utah wilderness, where he spent countless hours painting while exploring the region’s desolate red rock canyons. His artwork today mirrors a profound tranquility and deep self-reflection that is his own stemming from the hardships experienced in the fields of China and as an impoverished immigrant student working as a janitor and living alone in the U.S.
Zhang's pieces reflect an eastern and western influences that include a breadth of inspiration spanning from Wu Daozi’s delicate ink sketches to Willem de Kooning’s vibrant oils. Stylistically, they represents Zhang’s technical prowess learned from his Chinese art background and creative panache developed from contemporary training in the U.S. Such themes might have been considered blasphemous during his teen years, nowadays, poignant emotion becomes a character study on modern China.
Zhang's figures in each painting depict portraits frozen in time, for example, his self-portrait carries a solemn, yet stoic expression almost nonchalantly peering in the viewer’s direction. His depictions are full of independence, optimism, eagerness, hunger and sometimes naiveté, but also display an indifferent regard for their fellow man or and their complex environment. In his most recent work, Zhang approaches a deeper humanity. Taking inspiration from Richard Diebenkorn’s rich lines and contemporary adeptness to patterning a convergence of nature and form, he takes his works to a new level.
Zhang is fascinated by emotions in the everyday landscapes. Without cars, roads, or buildings, the viewer is provoked to deliberate on the subjectivity of Zhang’s pieces. His works fashion a multifarious stew of clandestine possibilities, struggles, joy and optimism found in modern America.