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Zhang Enli

8 November 2023—14 January 2024
Long Museum, Shanghai, China

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Zhang Enli: Expression features painting works by artist Zhang Enli during the past three decades. According to the artist, “The retrospective is not merely a review of my art but also of the society as well as the time. I want it to be like a mirror in which everyone could see a reflection unique to him/her.” The exhibition takes “lines”, a recurring element in Zhang’s artistic practice, as a point of departure; and concludes with his latest blue abstract series, which is created in 2023. The nearly 100 works on view include figure portraits from the 1990s to early 2000s, portraits of everyday objects from the 2000s to early 2010s, and abstract portraits from early 2010s to now.

Following this timeline of thirty years, we firstly see some of Zhang’s earliest oil paintings created when young Zhang Enli was full of aspirations to become an artist, including Self-Portrait (1987), Lights Blocked by Colored Paper (1990) and Sad (1992). Due to the constraints of the materials available at the time, these works are small in size but all feature bright and vivid colors. Human figures, still lifes and abstract objects delineated against the backdrop of redness all leave viewers with a deep impression, and cast light on some of the recurring subjects throughout Zhang Enli’s painting practice. Then we’d see portraits of lovers, young girls and butchers, scenes of banquets, bars and dance floors, everyday objects such as vessels, paper boxes, desks, chairs, sinks, tubes and balls, open air still lifes such as the sky, trees and garden, the artist’s profound feelings for his mother and families, and the various characters depicted in the form of abstract lines. “Lines” play a pivotal role in his thirty-year artistic practice, conveying “emotions” through the changes in colors, directions and thickness, and rendering “expressions” through “portraits”.

Works from different periods of Zhang’s art career collectively present a big picture of Zhang Enli’s exploration in the art world during the past three decades. His earlier focus on urban dwellers and the latest interest in abstract portraits have all shed light on the continuous attention he’s been paying to people, objects and space. The different periods of his practice show distinctive styles, but the shifts in themes and techniques are by no means abrupt. Instead, it’s an organic and continuous process. Taking a close look into the various series of Zhang Enli’s work, we’d perceive an intrinsic thread running through all these works – namely the artist’s consistent concern and insights for life and humanity. Through the presentation of the oeuvre of Zhang Enli, we hope that viewers would gain a more holistic view of the statement by the artist – “Everything is a portrait”.