Artist brings is­land-in­spired show to Bei­jing

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By LIN QI linqi@chi­ Con­tact the writer at tany­ingzi@ chi­

Nan­jing-based artist Zhang Lei has been de­scribed by his friends and art col­lec­tors as a “watcher” of Jiangx­inzhou, an is­land on the Yangtze River in East China’s Jiangsu prov­ince.

Un­til re­cently, the 29-yearold artist, who stud­ied at Nan­jing Univer­sity of the Arts, lived on the is­land. Many other artists of the area have also lived in the vil­lages of Jiangx­inzhou in search of tran­quil­ity. In ad­di­tion, house rents are cheap and the public trans­port to Nan­jing city is con­ve­nient.

Zhang, who lived there for a few years, is among the last artists to have moved out of the is­land be­cause old build­ings are be­ing dis­man­tled to con­vert Jiangx­inzhou into an up­scale des­ti­na­tion.

Zhang has found a new stu­dio in down­town Nan­jing, but says he doesn’t re­gret de­part­ing Jiangx­inzhou.

“There are al­ways things in life that one can­not go against. One needs to ac­cept them and move for­ward,” he says.

But he has en­cap­su­lated his ex­pe­ri­ences on the is­land in many paint­ings. And dozens of them are now on show at a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Gome Art Foun­da­tion’s gallery in Bei­jing.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, Pass­ing by Jiang Xin Zhou, shows how the is­land’s sim­ple life used to com­fort a young stu­dent away from his home in north­ern China — Zhang is orig­i­nally from Tang­shan in He­bei prov­ince — and how it kept in­spir­ing him and al­lowed him to fo­cus.

Zhang has many black-and­white paint­ings in his “sim­ple and straight­for­ward” way, and they re­veal his easy at­ti­tude to­ward life and the larger nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

His sub­jects in­clude vil­lagers, dense woods, aban­doned cot­tages and vine­yards on Jiangx­inzhou that formed the ba­sis of his daily life there. In his works, he re­ar­ranges them to cre­ate dreamy scenes in sur­re­al­is­tic style.

For ex­am­ple, he en­larges the eyes of peo­ple or de­picts a bird that is dis­pro­por­tion­ally larger than the moun­tains where it lives.

Some other works por­tray a dark field un­der a few stars or a beam of light pro­jected by a com­ing bi­cy­cle, re­veal­ing a feel­ing of both re­fresh­ment and lone­li­ness.

Many of his paint­ings are in­spired by scenes that he saw daily in Jiangx­inzhou while still in col­lege: He had to wake up early to take boat rides to Nan­jing, stayed at school un­til late and went back home through the empty fields of Jiangx­inzhou.

Zhang says al­though the is­land’s land­scape was his mo­ti­va­tion to cre­ate the dif­fer­ent pieces, he didn’t paint If you go

Daily through Aug 4. B306 Ea­gle Plaza, 26 Xiaoyun Road, Chaoyang dis­trict, Bei­jing. 010-5928-7378.

“po­etic nar­ra­tives”, rather, he sought to com­mu­ni­cate the in­ner peace of the is­land, a lux­ury that is dif­fi­cult to find else­where and pro­vided him the courage to cope with his tran­si­tion to big-city life.

“I’ve learned to turn my­self into a ‘ther­mome­ter’ of life,” he says.

The artists’ com­mu­nity in Jiangx­inzhou and the is­land’s nat­u­ral scenery have at­tracted the at­ten­tion of out­siders in­clud­ing Yin Er, a Shang­haibased de­signer and film­maker.

He made a film on life on the is­land and cast Zhang in a lead role — a painter and a house agent (in spare time) who med­i­tates be­tween vil­lagers and mi­grants in Jiangx­inzhou.

“Zhang’s work boasts grace­ful smooth­ness in tex­ture, a fea­ture that is easy to de­scribe but dif­fi­cult of find,” Yin says, com­par­ing the art to jade.


Zhang’s paint­ings the Yangtze River.

Zhang Lei, a Nan­jing-based artist.

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