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Under the Blue Sky
Solo Exhibition Grace Li Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland
Date: 2006

Artists: ZHOU Zixi 周子曦

Exhibition: April 7 - June 9, 2006
Opening: April 6, 6pm - 8pm

The gallery is pleased to present to the West the first comprehensive viewing of the paintings of Zhou Zixi, an artist living and working in Shanghai.  As an introduction, the gallery will exhibit a small representative selection of the paintings of Zhou from the year?ˉs 1999 to 2006.

Though silent in the past years, Zhou is one of the key figures in a young generation of painters in China who have continued to paint during a time when many have lost interest in the medium. In the fast changing China and the new information age, many Chinese artists have felt that photography and video are more appropriate contemporary forms of expression that better match contemporary experience.  During this challenging time, Zhou?ˉs love for painting led him to find his way as an artist.

Zhou was born in Jiangxi, China in 1970. After studying literature in university until 1989, he started to concentrate on painting.  Zhou was also a long time newspaper column writer.  And there is a close relationship between his writing and painting, in terms of the content and as well as the ways of expression.

A storyteller, Zhou creates haunting and evocative figurative oil paintings which address major social themes such as war, revolution, resistance, hunger.  But alongside this brutality, sorrow and pity, he also shows us celebratory and anarchically happy moments.  Much of the source of Zhou?ˉs paintings derives from mass media ¨C he appropriates from the newspapers and magazines, as well as from advertising.  Another major source of his imagery comes from his own daily life ¨C self-portraits, portraits of friends, places he?ˉs lived.

Zhou?ˉs early paintings throughout the 1990s began with a thicker and active surface, in a muted color palette.  These works have an idealism and spirituality to them, carrying symbols which continue throughout his career: Walls creating boundaries of alienation; Solitary beds in the landscape ¨C beds which project a sense of anxiety and loneliness, not of comfort and rest; Expressive hand gestures signifying a range of emotions ¨C from anguish to comfort to joy to cruelty.

Zhou depicts the ravages of military aggression - there is no valor of war, rather he emphasizes its repression of the human spirit.  Amidst the devastated cities, there are compelling scenes of people alone in their misery as well as struggling together in their distress  ¨C and this includes a series of individual portraits of frightened, wounded, weeping children.

Beginning sometime around the year 2000, Zhou?ˉs approach to painting changed to a flatter surface with brighter colors ¨C although his searing examination of the world?ˉs historical events did not change.  A major work entitled ?°Life in the Floating World?± (2000) is like an essay, but in visual form - a group of 24 works on paper of varying sizes.  Zhou draws these pictures from his study of some important historical journalistic photographs, ranging from Mother Teresa to the Vietnamese War to hunger in Africa to the first picture of a couple kissing in public, etc. These are pieces of his thoughts, things touching him at that time, whether it is about human disaster, suffering, nobility of life, beauty, romanticism or love. Refusing categorization of these images, Zhou says there was no theme in his mind when he created this work.  Yet, these disparate images are connected in the way the title hints: life in this floating world, crossing time and space.  The interpretations of these photographs are subjective and intimate, the result from Zhou?ˉs process of digesting them.
Though working in a relatively closed world, not knowing who Luc Tuymans is, some of Zhou?ˉs paintings do have a dialogue with Tuymans?ˉ work.  The dialogue is not within the technique or style of the painting ¨C more with the subject matter, such as world historical events and politics, as well as the fact that they both draw from the imagery found in the vast data of photography and mass media.  And in their paintings, events and ideas are not expressed explicitly, but implied through subtle hints and allusions, creating an ambiguous collage of disconnected fragments and details.  ?°Life in the Floating World?± is a typical example.

With ?°Sorry I Don?ˉt Know?± (2001), Zhou invented a new series of billboard-like oil on vinyl paintings - we see people with their hands covering their mouth or their eyes, with a dramatic cloud filled sky as the backdrop.  These potent symbols suggest the darker side of contemporary life in China.  Recently, Zhou has produced another new series of paintings of ambiguous and haunting views: mountains in fog, verdant green pastures, the blue waters of a quiet lake, a lush river delta.  But all are disrupted by scenes of blatant or subtle violence.  In one painting where mountains are half surrounded by fog: there is a date in the color red on the bottom right which appears like the date-stamp from a camera -  June 4, 1989, the date of the Tian?ˉan men square massacre. The title of this series ?°Landscape?± has subtle yet strong double meanings.

Concurrent with these landscapes, Zhou also has been producing a series of urban paintings he calls ?°Happy Life?± (2004-2006). Zhou gathers images from blogs as well as snapshots from his friends to show us the lives of Chinese couples in their modern upper middle-class apartments, where the artwork on the walls references many of Zhou?ˉs violent paintings based on media and the enigmatic pictures of other Chinese artists.  In these apartments we see couples frolicking in seductive role-playing, individuals staging mock combat with weapons and youths enjoying their capitalist luxury.  This interesting transformation of Zhou?ˉs work generates curiosity in the audience to his next step: what will he want to say next and how?

For further information and images, please contact Grace Li Gallery at +41 44 289 5612 or

Gallery Hours: Monday to Saturday 11:00am - 18:00pm or by appointment.

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