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Zhang Enli

Zhang Enli: Faces

24 January - 9 March



Using the outside world as a mirror, Zhang Enli often documents the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life. Titled ‘Faces’, the inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s new location in Hong Kong features new paintings by the artist. These gestural canvases reflect Zhang Enli’s progression to looser, freer brushwork that has become prominent in the artist’s style in recent years and reveals the artist’s compelling and continued exploration into abstract form.

Zhang Enli first gained acclaim in the 1990s for symbolic, figurative paintings. Within these early works, the perspective was often skewed to heighten the drama of the object’s shape, or to enlarge its symbolic importance. Zhang Enli has frequently returned to a personal iconography centred on the everyday aspects of contemporary life, drawn to imagery of quotidian objects that are sensitively rendered and imbued with stories. In more recent years, the artist has turned to the outside world, urban dwellings and nature, blurring the boundaries between inside and out. In a series of installations, known as Space Paintings, Zhang Enli paints directly onto the walls of a room to create immersive environments. These range from the abstract, where colour and gesture recall the sights and sounds of a particular place, to more figurative reproductions.

The exhibition in Hong Kong focuses on Zhang Enli’s expressive new possibilities. While anchored in figuration with descriptive titles, Zhang Enli seeks to capture the ‘essence’ of his subjects rather than their physical representation through these works. New paintings for the exhibition such as ‘A Guest from Afar’ (2023), ‘Melon Farmers’ (2023) and ‘Art Museum Director’ (2022) are made with a diverse palette and application – dynamic brushstrokes are overlaid with colourful spheres, indicating a style in the artist’s painterly aesthetic. In these works, Zhang Enli projects his own concerns and recollections onto the canvas, fusing the real and the imagined, in highly personal impressions.

Literature has had a lasting influence on Zhang Enli’s creative practice, in particular ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ by Sherwood Anderson, which he first encountered in college in 1985. Anderson’s depictions of characters, detailed observations and the desire to see beneath the surface of life, has reminded the artist of his own experience and memories with his family, and drawn his attention to fate of ‘the ordinary people’. The ‘faces’ of the characters are no longer important, they became a symbol, leaving traces of their identity and life stories in the artwork titles. ‘A Man Reading “The Castle”’ (2023) refers to ‘The Castle’, the last novel by Franz Kafka, who died before he finished the book. This sense of mystery and uncertainty within the book, as well as for humanity at large, has remained a constant source of inspiration for the artist, who has revisited the work countless times.

Zhang Enli has been represented by Hauser & Wirth since 2006 and has exhibited both internationally and regionally; his solo exhibition at the Long Museum, Shanghai is currently on view until 14 January 2024. Titled ‘Expression’, the exhibition features painting works by artist Zhang Enli created in the past three decades. The nearly 100 works on view include figure paintings from the 1990s to early 2000s and the artist’s everyday objects series from the 2000s to early 2010s, along with abstract works from early 2010s until the present day.

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