Zhang Zuo

Artist Story
I was born in small quiet village in northern China. When I was very young, I often played with the big brother next door who enjoyed drawing Chinese martial art characters. I was captivated by this works. As my family was very poor and I had no toys or comics, I would cut out the cartoon characters printed on instant noodles packaging and copied them on papers discarded by my father. When I went to high school, I came across works of masters such Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse’s paintings in art text book. It was then that I realized that man could create such mesmerizing works of arts.
My learning journey began in 2001 when I left for Beijing and met my first art teacher Mr Hou Jinli. We were from the same village. Together with Mr Hou and other friends, we rented a basement apartment next to the Central Academy of Fine Arts to prepare for the painting examination. We were young and live life fearlessly. We had our niche in a quiet corner of the bustling city. We drank, painted and talked about Duchamp. During those joyful years, our head were filled with Matisse, Delacroix, Schiller, Renoir, Modigliani …
After graduating from Herbei’s Mei San University with a Bachelor of Art, I went to Beijing Songzhuang, I borrowed money to rent a small room within a community housing district. Life was hard. I sustained with four ‘馒头’ (buns) a day, flavored with 老干妈 (a bottled minced meat sauce). Three buns for lunch and one reserved in the late evening while I paint. The tiny room was filled with pictures and drawing materials. The stench of cheap ink and turpentine filled the room. It was a cocktail of sheer indulgence.
To earn my keep, I joined a company that sells mass produced artworks. It was then that I further honed my painting skills. At the end of my tenure, I could churn out four works everyday. At 2010, I joined the army. There, l experienced an even harsher world. But I developed my tenacity.
I came to Shanghai in 2012 hoping to start afresh as an artist. However, in no time, I was torn between the need to find a stable income or continue in my artistic endeavor. My initial euphoria graduated into a state of despair and restlessness. I was disoriented by the gloss and shine of this metropolis. I felt the chill of the indifferent crowds. I was homesick. I thought about my time wandering in the village fields and recalled the comforting aroma of the earth. I dreamt of the three old trees along the alley, the scattered stone rubbles along the paths. Most of all I sought solace in the faces of my childhood friends and love ones.
I am rather introverted. I enjoyed sitting in the studio with a hint of sunshine, painting, smoking, and sometimes talking to myself. I think I am a little mad. My paintings became my medium of communication with the world. In this series of works, I attempted to string together the stories of youth and their forlorn for their family.
The birds in my painting are like the flight of youths that migrate into the city everyday. We do not know their name, they have no identity, they have no recognition. They left their hometown, a place that they loathed and yearned, to seek a better life in the city. Many of them slogged and toiled to make good in the city.
And like the living environment of these migrant youths, the settings of my works are barren and somber. The subjects are free and lonely, seemingly blissful and sad. They are unsure of their place in life. They have yet to discover their own self worth.
And as they approach 30 – a milestone age in their lives, many struggle to live up to mounting expectations from society, their families and their partners. They experienced the tugged between burying their hopes and the onslaught of reality. Some leaped out of this stage and move on to the next phase of their lives. But alas, there will be those are left behind, with dreams unfilled, with each night falling into a slumber of lost aspiration.
The approaching 30s is challenging period in our lives. As someone once said, the years of hardship could possibly be joy too – a joy known we know as youth.