Zhang Enli – Space Painting at the ICA
Zhang Enli’s fascination with the illumination of the seemingly mundane and oft-ignored has its roots in his move from provincial Jilin in China, where he was born in 1965, to metropolitan Shanghai. The artist draws attention to the forgotten details of society in an attempt to convey its hidden complexities, from his early pieces featuring humans depicted from curious, unflattering angles, or caricatured expressionistically (like Daumier), using calligraphic lines that would seem to draw inspiration from classical Chinese painting, to his later works that magnify everyday objects like buckets, cardboard boxes and dumpsters. The same philosophy seems to play a role in his latest work, realised in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary Art, which transforms the anonymous locale of the ICA theatre into a spectacle of colour.
Apart from the ceiling, the entire space has been painted with Enli’s typical, visible brush marks that leave parts of the underlying white base bare between the feverishly applied streaks of watercolour. The diaphanous quality of the result, with its pale natural hues, reminds one at times of the semi-transparency of vegetation, and that floral, springtime serenity of the art of Monet, present in his paintings of water lilies. This beautification by way of colour recalls the wall-to-wall, hand-painted decoration that turned the home of Vanessa and Clive Bell into a work of art, and Enli has left no angle untouched – even the drainpipes are emphasised by way of his brush.
That same brush, though, is chaotic in its movements: illuminated by spotlights (Enli attests to always working under artificial light), the grungy, raw, urban, manmade presence is still central, and upon closer inspection some of those frenetic strokes of paint resemble graffiti marks.
Enli talks often of the importance of the artist in visualising personal impressions of the surrounding world, and conveying by way of that imagery simple human emotions – indeed, the best art does just that. From the disturbing and complex pieces representing humans (emphasising bald heads and crude features) to his paintings of trees (focusing on small portions of their frame) he has found serenity in the midst of the metropolis: his latest effort immerses one in a soothing, artificial urban jungle.
Zhang Enli: Space Painting is at the Institute of Contemporary Art until 22nd December 2013, for further information visit here.