Emerging artist Zhang Zuo has found a believer in Singaporean-owned LWH Gallery, which organised his first solo exhibition

By Chow Yian Ping


The sun has just set on Moganshan Road and the LWH Gallery, established by Singaporean Lee Woon Hoe right by Suzhou Creek is ready to close for the day. This was the last day of 27-year-old Zhang Zuo’s solo exhibition – Solace of Youth, and he managed to sell three works.


If artists such as Xu Zhen, Maleonn, Yang Yongliang and Lu Yang are part of the young constellation that is lighting up in China’s contemporary arts scene, then Zhang – an industrial design graduate of Yanshan University in Hebei – is biding his time for a spot among the stars.


Simplicity and Solitude
Zhang was born to a family of farmers in rural Hebei. Although he did not gain admission to a fine arts programme after high school, he has doggedly stuck to his dream of becoming an artist, practicing on his own in the meantime. He went from Beijing to Shanghai last year, because Beijing was too “dry” as were his networking options. “Beijing’s winters are bleak and there is little warmth in interpersonal relations.” He concludes. “Although it’s a place I’m familiar with. I decided to stay away. I also wanted to experience other cities.”


In Shanghai, he took up day jobs and painted at night. He rented a small studio and gave himself the title “Su Ren” (or “Amateur”). It is a term used in the writings of Taiwanese author San Mao about a group of individuals in Paris doing the same thing as he was: working in the day, painting at night – leading all in all an ascetic lifestyle.


While looking for a job, Zhang had walked into LWH Gallery and it was there that he met Lee, a Singaporean who had quit his job in a multinational firm to set up an art gallery in Shanghai with his life savings. Impressed with his portfolio, Lee decided to organise an exhibition for Zhang, his first solo exhibition. The works are created using paint, watercolours and in pen, and express the lack of moorings and loneliness felt by young migrants in the cities. Zhang says he relies more on emotions than an understanding of society to paint his canvasses, as the latter is something he lacks.


Society Too Much For Him
The alienation Zhang feels, that is a major theme in his works, had been brewing since he left home for the big cities. Preferring a more stable life, none of Zhang’s schoolmates had chosen to become artists, even those who had gone on to study the fine arts. On the other hand, Zhang was determined to continue painting and wait for a breakthrough.


Living in Shanghai, the city has grown more unfamiliar and even frightening to him, he confesses. He takes heart in being able to continue with his passion, with the best success being the exhibition gig he snagged.


“Now I feel I have nothing to do with society, that I am a person who is not in society. I don’t seem to be able to handle things like interpersonal relationships and financial relationships in modern life… therefore, I wish to keep a distance. Perhaps, one day, I will have no choice but to go into society, to face it and even to confront it, but the time is not now.


As it turns out, the 500 sq ft of gallery space in LWH may have been the warmest place in chilly Shanghai for him – at least for now.


“There’s a saying that goes, if you feel that something is too great, too overwhelming, then you should keep a distance from it. Once I go (into society). I will not be able to see or feel certain things. I am not resisting (society), I just wish to be myself.”


Courtesy Of ZbBZ