Zhang Xiaogang: Bloodline, Big Family

Zhang Xiaogang is a contemporary Chinese symbolist and surrealist painter. Recently, he also created sculptures, translating for the first time into three dimensions many characters of the sort seen in his "Bloodlines—Big Family" portrait series.

By Balthazar Malevolent

Zhang Xiaogang: Bloodline, Big Family

Zhang Xiaogang is one of China's most influential contemporary artists. His art was inspired by the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square catastrophe. For all of its drama, the Cultural Revolution is inextricably tied to present Chinese history, and Zhang Xiaogang, like many other new wave artists, considers this relationship by tracing a psychological line from the past to the future.

The artist belongs to the generation that first became interested in Western art and began to study and apply it with attention, filtering it through their own thinking and cultural background.

They do not copy the West, but they employ it in such a way that, on the one hand, they defy established Chinese painting rules while also assimilate the achievements of Western culture and art, resulting in something entirely unique, unlike either, but recognizable in both China and the West.

This is why, despite its uniqueness, Chinese art can be appreciated by both Western and Chinese audiences. In terms of volume of sales, the Chinese art market has already exceeded the American and European markets and is currently the world's largest.

Zhang Xiaogang creates a series of paintings that are linked by a common cross-cutting notion rather than individual paintings. The artist's most famous series, Bloodline: Big Family, has become a symbol of contemporary Chinese art.

The artist employs a monochrome black-and-white palette, which is reminiscent of vintage photographs or black-and-white film from classic films. The figures in the family portraits have no names and appear to exist in timelessness, having been created using the same formula and mold, indistinguishable from one another like clones, and staring at the viewer with a cold and impassive alien gaze.

A slender, hardly detectable crimson thread goes through the entire painting, connecting each family photo. The antique aspect is enhanced with multicolored transparent stains, which give the image a sense of realism.

The artist claims that when you live in a large family, each member learns to close themselves away in their own private room and pretend to keep up with everyone, which he captures in his family photos. But there is always a uniqueness behind this visibility, a maelstrom of feelings and impressions carefully veiled and barely discernible - a little slanted eye, glasses, uneven teeth, or a displaced strand of hair. Individual characteristics in China are far less powerful than social blood ties.

Zhang Xiaogang
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