For Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Yanzi, art is in the details. She paints with a self-consciously feminine aesthetic, while microscopic worlds in ink and colour are all at once poetic and whimsical. Yanzi’s work is collected by the National Art Museum of China, M+ in Hong Kong, CAFA Art Museum, L’Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale,” as well as art collectors worldwide.
Yanzi was born in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province. She completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Chinese Painting at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts and Beijing Normal University, where she now resides.
She has exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong, Shanghai Art Museum, Venice Biennale, Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing and Charterhouse of San Giacomo, Capri, Italy. Her latest exhibition, titled Essence, just opened last week and is a continuation of the Remedy series shown at Art Basel Hong Kong for the past two years. We catch up with Yanzi to chat about life as an artist.
What is a typical working day like for you?
It depends. I normally manage school affairs in the morning. I am the editor-in-chief of CAFA ART INFO at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In the afternoons, I go out with my friends, so I only have time to do art in the evenings. I focus on art during the holidays; it’s when I don’t have much of a sleeping schedule. I sleep when I’m tired and get back to my art as soon as I wake up.
How did you come about your detailed ink style and how has it evolved?
When it comes to drawing, I become much pickier than I actually am. There’s an old Chinese proverb that states, “A miss is as good as a mile”. Different feelings and emotions need to be expressed differently. Just because the art is intricate doesn’t mean it’s good, it’s about the accuracy in expression. I think the style of my art is calm and precise.
What do you love most about creating art?
That it’s a medium of expression.
Tell us about your creative process?
It varies really. Most of the time it originates from a thought. Then I collect the materials, do a sketch, write some notes. I experiment with some new techniques and record down the effects. Then I make a preliminary sketch and get to work. Usually I adjust along the way, so the original sketch varies slightly from the final work. Sometimes I surprise myself with the result of an experiment, so depending on my mood, I might create artworks that surprise myself.
Do you have a morning ritual?
For breakfast I normally have yogurt and natto. If I have time I’ll run for 10km for 100 minutes. Most of the time I’m already at school, sometimes teaching or checking my email.
What are you working on now?
The Essence exhibition just ended and I’m in Hong Kong so there are quite a few interviews, but I already have an idea for my next piece and I’m in the drafting stage. It has to do with gauzes.
How important is art?
Art allows you to forget about your troubles and raises awareness of the physical and mental worlds.
What’s your favourite work of art and why?
There are a lot. Emperor Huizong of Song’s Cranes Dancing in the Air – it makes me feel very serene. Ma Yuan’s landscape paintings make me feel self-contained and calm. Hong Ren’s landscape paintings make me feel cold. Rachel Whiteread’s art brings me peace.
What do you want people to know about your work?
I hope they experience my art free of the influence of others. Every piece lives a different life in the eyes of every person. The reason I create is so I can express something I can’t through words.
Describe your top three qualities.
Passionate, intelligent, risk-taking
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?
I hope to create even better pieces and exhibit my artworks all over the world.
Your list of must-visit art museums and galleries in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong?
Beijing: CAFAM, Today Art Museum, Pace Gallery, Red Brick Art Museum, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.
Shanghai: Power Station of Art, Minsheng Art Museum, Rockbund Art Museum, OCAT Shanghai, Shanghai Center of Photography.
Hong Kong: Galerie Ora-Ora, M+ Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art, White Cube, Pace Gallery, Hanart TZ Gallery.
Essence is held in conjunction with Galerie Ora-Ora and Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences’s 20th anniversary this July.