Gui­tarists and artist who cares

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By DENG ZHANGYU dengzhangyu@ chi­

There’s no doubt that Chi­nese artist Zheng Wei, 33, is a die-hard fan of rock ’n’ roll. He’s en­graved images of his fa­vorite gui­tarists — as many as 185 of them— onto a nearly 6-me­ter-high wood block to show re­spect for his idols.

The Tree, the high­light of Zheng’s on­go­ing solo show at Bei­jing Art Now Gallery, is a doc­u­men­tary of gui­tarists born from the 1890s to the 1970s, fea­tur­ing in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in blues, rock ’n’ roll, jazz and coun­try mu­sic. Faces of mu­si­cians ap­pear like fruits on a “gui­tar tree” stringed with wires.

“It’s what I know about the gui­tarists in the rock ’n’ roll world,” says Zheng, not­ing that while many are house­hold names, oth­ers who ex­erted great in­flu­ence have been largely for­got­ten.

Faces along the bot­tom are mainly gui­tarists from the blues, such as Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son and Chuck Berry. The cen­tral part has well­known fig­ures like Elvis Pres­ley, John Len­non and Bob Dy­lan. The huge piece is a wood­cut with draw­ings and mixed ma­te­ri­als which took Zheng eight months to com­plete.

Zheng is very fa­mil­iar with all of the fig­ures he cre­ates — their mu­sic, their daily lives and their friends.

He puts to­gether faces of some gui­tarists who once be­friended but later hated each other, which he says is his way to re­build a re­la­tion­ship for them in his art world.

The Play­ing Gui­tar se­ries of the ex­hi­bi­tion con­cen­trates on in­flu­en­tial fig­ures from the West. One is about Wil­liam Bur­roughs, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Beat Gen­er­a­tion in the United States. On Zheng’s wood block, Bur­roughs is cut into many parts on a lawn. Papers with sen­tences from his novel Naked Lunch are glued onto his body parts and his gui­tar.

“It’s all about frag­ments: his life, his mu­sic and his books.”

Huang Liaoyuan, cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion and a long­time friend of Zheng, says the artist is good at us­ing mixed ma­te­ri­als in paint­ings in­stead of in­stal­la­tions.

A bulb, a pair of sun­glasses, a pony­tail grip, a piece of tub­ing — all find their places in Zheng’s wood prints.

Zheng used hun­dreds of tapes, CDs and posters in his works. Some were pro­vided by his friends, also fans of rock ’n’ roll, while oth­ers came from Chi­nese rock­ers.

Zheng started lis­ten­ing to rock bands in high school — Guns N’ Roses and Nir­vana. He says he and his friends got power from the mu­sic in their teen years.

Af­ter en­ter­ing Bei­jing’s Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts, Zheng went to watch as many live per­for­mances of rock as he could. Some fa­vorites he was never able to see in per­son, but they come to life in his paint­ings.

His se­riesWatch the Live at Home de­picts live per­for­mances of bands based on TV shows. In his paint­ings, the gui­tarist drinks wa­ter, lights a cigar or sticks out his tongue while the artist as a viewer sits on a couch at home.

“It’s all for fun. I can be as close as pos­si­ble in my paint­ing world withmy idols.”

None of the gui­tarists in The Tree are from Asia. Zheng says this is be­cause the genre has a long his­tory in theWest, but in China it’s still very young.

He loves to read bi­ogra­phies of these mu­si­cians for in­spi­ra­tion both in his works and in his life.

“They all gained fame and be­came young mil­lion­aires, but they also had to con­front ups and downs in life,” mak­ing them good sub­jects for his own artis­tic ex­pres­sion, he says.

The Tree marks an end to Zheng’s fo­cus on rock ‘n’ roll. He will fo­cus on paint­ing. How­ever, he says he will con­tinue lis­ten­ing to rock mu­sic.

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