Zhang Enli is a champion of forgotten space sand objects. His practice is grounded in melancholic portrayals of objects or places from everyday life, through painting, sculptureor installation such as ‘Space Paintings’, in which he paints directly on to the walls, ceilings and floors of a room. For ‘The Box’, Zhang’s second exhibition with Hauser&Wirth in London, the artist will present his first-ever sculptural installation alongside a new series of paintings.
In his paintings, Zhang creates an index of common place objects related to humanity. Taking visual material from whatever is close at hand – a piece of string, a hose, a marble ball from the floor of his studio – Zhang draws us into his world, documenting the more prosaic aspects of contemporary life.
Influenced by the loose washes of traditional Chinese brush painting, Zhang dilutes his paint until it is almost like a glaze, leaving pencil-drawn grids visible beneath the layers of paint. By allowing the grids to show through the painted surface, Zhang constantly reminds us that his paintings are artistic constructs, not direct replicas of any given object. The perspective of each painting is skewed to heighten the drama of the object’s shape, but Zhang’s expressive lines and curves are kept in check with in this measured frame work. In this way the rigid structure of his pencil-drawn grids can be viewed as a means of ordering the chaos of contemporary life.
Zhang’s paintings are rarely produced from direct observation, but from sketches, photographs and, significantly, from his memories of the objects he is depicting. The muted tones and thin application of paint make the objects seem not quite present, as if occupying a luminal reality where only these sence of the object is depicted on the canvas. His subject matter is usually enlarged, so that only a specific fragment of a scene is shown, as seen through the view finder on a camera. In ‘Architecture’, Zhang portrays a modern building, but instead of a sweeping cityscape, he hones in on a section of a window, contrasting the transparent bluish hue of the glass pane against the building’s heavy structural lines. Although Zhang chooses to work with grids, a common technique when enlarging photographs, this belies the nature of his practice, since his depictions are not faithful renditions of objects, but highly personal offerings.