Highly Prized Flowers

Red Gate Gallery presents Highly Prized Flowers (Tan Hua), curated by Tang Zehui, with artists Zhang Zheyi and Chen Jiaye that continue their re-imagining and re-creation of the tradition of classical Chinese painting.

Setting out from a contemporary standpoint, they hark back to tradition, providing alternate interpretations of tradition by tackling subject matter that ranges from the traditional genre of landscape (shan shui) paintings to flower and bird (hua niao) and figural (ren wu) genres and by relying on their different experiences of life and artistic insights.
In contemporary society, tradition exists in all its complexity, however mottled, fragmentary, multi-faceted and permeable this might be. The social and cultural context of artistic traditions has long since undergone irreversible change, and the revival of a tradition in any fundamentalist sense is neither possible nor desirable. Yet, as a part of collective cultural memory it exists as a reserve of images that provide the creative background for contemporary artists.
The creative work of Zhang Zheyi and Chen Jiaye is fully cognizant and expressive of this complexity, and their attempts to break through the binary opposition between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘contemporary’ make the tradition relevant for what is of the moment, at the same time as the contemporary is imbued with historical dimension; their own unique and specific creative practice finds the meeting point of the traditional and the contemporary, unearthing this from the depths and extending it.
Chen Jiaye‘s new works take classical works by Zhao Mengfu (1254 – 1322), Wu Yuanzhi (12th century) and other painters of the period since the Song and Yuan Dynasties as their mother lode, but they do not simply replicate these ink paintings in oil, but in a certain sense they restore material presence to these ancient paintings, and on their canvases they explore the various possibilities of their destinies. The artist uses his refined realistic technique to create the effect that these ancient paintings have been ‘torn up’, ‘crumpled’, ‘burnt’ or ‘soaked’. The sense that the picture expresses fragmentation and incompleteness undoubtedly conveys the artist’s meditation on tradition in a contemporary encounter.
If Chen Jiaye‘s works are endowed with the powerful temperament of philosophical reflection, then Zhang Zheyi‘s creative work expresses more of the elements of play and humour. He too works with oils, but his works are redolent of literati paintings (wen ren hua). He has an elevated awareness of traditional literature and culture, and his works draw on the traditional arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal carving; the ancient poems in rigorous classical rhyme and meter that adorn his paintings are his own compositions, as are the prefatory inscriptions that also appear on his works. Even though he includes cast iron toys, glass beads, and even airplanes and astronauts in his paintings, they have none of the cuteness or exaggeration we associate with work of the so-called ‘cartoon generation’, but instead exude a familiar and elegant classical temperament.
In the exhibition, the two artists both pay particular homage to the leitmotif provided by the anonymous Song Dynasty masterpiece titled ‘Yellow Oriole on the Pomegranate Branches’, which they re-interpret in their different ways. To quote the lyric poem by Wen Tingjun (812 – 866), “looking at the flowers in the front and rear mirrors”, we see that their works inspired by the same original are very different, but we also see how their works simultaneously enhance and compliment each other.

Vernissage: Saturday, March 22, 2014, 3 – 5 pm

  • Artists:
    Zhang Zheyi
    Chen Jiaye
  • Open:
    Saturday, 22 March 2014
  • Close:
    Wednesday, 16 April 2014
  • Address:
    Red Gate Gallery, Levels 1 & 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower, Dongcheng, Beijing
  • Mail:
  • Phone:
    +86 10 6525 1005
  • Web:
    Red Gate Gallery
  • Opening hour:
    Everyday | 9am – 5pm
  • Photo credits:
    1. Chen Jiaye: To Tear No. 13 / 撕系列之十三 (2014); 2. Chen Jiaye: To Tear No. 4 / 撕系列之四 (2011); 3. Zhang Zheyi: April / 四月天 (2014); 4. Zhang Zheyi: Spring Rain / 春雨 (2014), Courtesy of Red Gate Gallery.


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