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Zhang Xiaogang


Artist 220

Zhang Xiaogang Surrealism Painting

Zhāng Xiǎogāng (born in 1958) is a contemporary Chinese symbolist and surrealist painter.


He is known for his paintings in his Bloodline series are predominantly monochromatic, stylized portraits of Chinese people, usually with large, dark-pupiled eyes, posed in a stiff manner deliberately reminiscent of family portraits from the 1950s and 1960s. Recently, he also created sculptures, translating for the first time into three dimensions many characters of the sort seen in his "Bloodlines—Big Family" portrait series.

These sculptures have featured in many exhibits and continue his work as one of China's leading, and most highly sought-after, contemporary artists. Zhang was born to parents Qi Ailan and Zhang Jing (both government officials) in the city of Kunming in China's Yunnan province in 1958, and was the third of four brothers. Zhang's mother, Qi Ailan taught him how to draw as an activity to keep him out of trouble: “From early on, my parents worried that I would go out and get into trouble. They gave us paper and crayons so we could draw at home. . . . I gained more and more interest in art. I had a lot of time, because I didn't have to go to school. My interest increased. After I became an adult, I never gave up art. So that's how I started to draw.”

His parents were taken away for 3 years by the Chinese government for re-education. [3]He came of age during the 1960s and 1970s political upheavals known as the Cultural Revolution, which exerted a certain influence on his painting. In early 1976, Xiaogang was sent to work on a farm as part of the "Down to the Countryside Movement" ( a policy where certain privileged urban youth would be sent to mountainous areas or farming villages to learn from the workers and farmers there. In total, approximately 17 million youth were sent to rural areas as a result of the movement) Chinese water color painter, Lin Ling trained Xiaogang in 1975, teaching him formal water color and sketching techniques.


“When I was 17, I told myself I wanted to be an artist. . . I felt that art was like a drug. Once you are addicted, you can't get rid of it.” At the time of his collegiate education, Zhang's professors continued to teach styles of Revolutionary Realism as instituted by Chairman Mao. This only served to inspire Xiaogang and his peers to opt for topics of western philosophy and introspective individualism while shunning political and ideological subject matter.

In 1980s he struggled with alcoholism and fitting into society but Xiaogang began to emerge from the dark time in his life and joined the New Wave movement in China that saw a philosophical, artistic and intellectual explosion in Chinese culture

Zhang traveled to Germany in 1992 for 3 months gaining unprecedented perspective on his own Chinese cultural identity. Upon returning he had a newfound desire to explore and revitalize his own personal past along with recent Chinese history through painting. During his three - month stay in Germany, Zhang spent most of his time analyzing works by Western artists in museums. And he thought about his position as a Chinese artist.

He said "I looked from the 'early phase' to the present for a position for myself, but even after this I still didn't know who I was. But an idea did emerge clearly: if I continue being an artist, I have to be an artist of 'China.'"


Drawing on a surrealism realistic painting, he abandoned his old style and begins to draw flat pictures. He had a major conceptual breakthrough after discovering his family photos which reminded him of the memories destroyed by the contextual cultural setting of the time.

“I felt very excited, as if a door had opened. I could see a way to paint the contradictions between the individual and the collective and it was from this that I started really to paint. There’s a complex relationship between the state and the people that I could express by using the Cultural Revolution. China is like a family, a big family. Everyone has to rely on each other and to confront each other. This was the issue I wanted to give attention to and, gradually, it became less and less linked to the Cultural Revolution and more to people’s states of mind.”

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