Guitarists and artist who cares
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.