“Shanshui” has always been an essential subject in Zhang Hongtu’s work. Having worked on the Repaint Chinese Shanshuiseries since 1998, he has consciously emulated the painting styles of such masters as Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Claude Monet (1840-1926) for well over a decade, such that he has created his extinguished style by juxtaposing the East and West. However, for an artist who has never tried to conform to the main trends and has continuously challenged and subverted conventional thinking, Zhang Hongtu’s work has never stagnated. The works in this exhibition “Shanshui Today” present a promising and exciting new phase in Zhang Hongtu’s artistic career. Many works in this series such as Classic of Mountains and Seas(Shan Hai Jing),Untitled (Mother and Child), Untitled (Four Monkeys and CCTV), all exhibitmonkeys occupyingthe foreground of a landscape, alluding to the artist’s concern for the environment. Yet, the presence of these animals is most puzzling. They can produce a feeling of sadness, although it may not be possible immediately to pinpoint why.
For an interview, Zhang Hongtu has had small cards printed:“I will answer any questions about my work,except about the monkeys.” The innocence of the monkeys may be a sad counterweight to the overdeveloped countryside in these paintings, or perhaps a link between the viewer, nature, and the buildings, in a state of peaceful coexistence, spurring us to consider and reflect on our relationship with nature. Despite the various interpretations of the monkeys, we can see the rich conceptual content of Zhang Hongtu’s new work, while also revealing more of the personal feelings. Just as the message of Zhang Hongtu’s art gradually becomes less explicit and more personal, it also provides more space for the viewer in turn to explore personal thoughts. After finding out what the qiyunof today can be, Zhang Hongtu returns to himself. It has been a long journey, but by daring to plumb more personal depths, Zhang Hongtu is discovering new strengths.