White Space Art Asia | Staff Picks: Zhang He’s Top 3 Artworks

Staff Picks: Zhang He’s Top 3 Artworks

It has been almost 5 years since I found a family with the White Space Art Asia Team. Art has always been my favourite subject and being in the arts industry is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made. Being a gallerist also means that I am basically looking at art every day. Something that I’ve learnt along the way is that when it comes to art, there is no good or bad, right or wrong. I hold firm to the belief that there is at least one piece of art in the world that attracts your attention and connects to you at a deeper level.

I enjoy meeting new people and artists at the gallery who have many interesting things to offer about their craft, their philosophies and their worldviews. Slowly, over the years I learn to develop my personal taste in art as well. I appreciate the artists’ works that have been carefully curated by my director and my team members. I often feel so connected to some of these pieces that I long to own them as well – that is why picking my top 3 is such a tough call to make.

But nevertheless, here they are.

Shen Zi YaoNight of the Deepest Blue, 97x90cm, Chinese Ink and Mixed Media

To me, this is a scene that is distant from the hustle and bustle of the city life that we now call home. This is a place untainted by the careless fingers of civilization. It feels almost as if a great storm has just passed, the raindrops saturated through the canopies and washed clean our anxious souls. Not a trace of wind, the air is unfathomably still, and peacefulness prevails. I love how the moonlight is reflected off the lake like a looking glass, mirroring the purity of the untouched world.

This painting is frozen at the moment of twilight, the birds are returning home to roost and the skies are on the cusp of darkening overhead, turning the world into a deep sapphire blue. The tension lies within the smattering of the first stars that were beginning to dot the night sky and the world feels like it is at a standstill. Just like the fleeting moment before dawn, these precious few seconds is often lost to the world.

Wang Zi JiangThe Mists of Time, 137x70cm, Chinese Ink on Paper

Kyoto is one of my favourite cities. It is characterized by its ancient streets and iconic architecture. As it slowly gets late in the evening, the shophouses and restaurants in Gion start to become busy and the lights from the lanterns and signboards slowly lit up as the skies darken overhead. The warm glow from these lantern lights illuminates and spreads through the cobbled streets ever so invitingly.

I love it most when these lights hit the wet pavement after a late afternoon shower, creating a soft yellow reflection that makes it look completely different as you would see it in the day. The cherry blossom festival begins around March to April every year and looking at these beautiful flowers decorating the streets of Gion evokes a certain melancholic sadness and beauty.

To be able to witness a Geisha ambling by along the streets of Kyoto is an exceedingly rare event. I was very fortunate to have encountered that once on my trip there. I caught a fleeting glance when she bowed her head coyly and quickly entered into a nearby restaurant.

In Wang Zi Jiang’s Kyoto series, every Geisha dons a kimono of varying patterns. Inspired by this, I was compelled to do my own research into kimono patterns and Geisha culture too. Geishas are artists in their own rights. They are skilful dancers and singers, incredibly competent in the art of tea ceremonies and they have to be excellent entertainers too. The common perception of them selling their bodies is a misguided one, they are first and foremost artists and if anything, they sell their skillset and craft. In fact, they are esteemed figures in Japan’s cultural history. Geishas commonly put on wigs and have very simple hair accessories. You can identify them by their plain kimonos and ordinary Obi (belt). Their shoes are usually made of straw. In this case, the woman in the painting is a Maiko, not a Geisha. A Maiko is an apprentice or disciple around 15 years of age. They usually wear kimonos that are more colourful and intricately designed, coupled with a variety of hair accessories and wooden clogs that are 15cm tall.

I think what makes this painting so compelling is the fact that you don’t see her face, adding another layer of enigma and beauty to the Maiko. Generally, most Chinese ink paintings do not take into consideration the concept of perspective, which is a predominately Western notion. But here, Wang Zi Jiang cleverly incorporates the use of perspective and lighting with a traditional Chinese medium. Indeed, the technique made it such an immersive piece I almost feel like I am back in Gion again. As far as I know, Wang Zi Jiang the only artist who can portray Kyoto and its traditional and cultural elements in such an encompassing way. I had the honour to meet the artist himself in person at our 2017 ION solo show for Wang Zi Jiang. They say never to meet your idols, but he was so polite and gentlemanly, it was indeed a joy for me. In fact, the exhibition was such a success as many people got to encounter his art and the artist truly left an indelible mark on all of us.

Zhang WenThe Junior Master of the House, 57x71cm, Chinese Ink on Paper

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I think many people can relate when I say that living in a concrete jungle like Singapore is highly demanding and stressful. We are always so caught up with survival and making a living that we never truly live the way we want to. Granted, it is challenging to balance work with a free-spirited lifestyle. This is why I often travel far away from home just to seek a semblance of inner peace and to carve out some time to do a little self-reflection.

“The Junior Master of the House” is one of my favourite pieces from Zhang Wen. She uses a type of xuan paper that is heavily textured, called “Maobian” paper. This gives the painting a very natural and organic appeal. She cleverly uses this texture to emphasise the empty spaces and by doing so, it allows the viewer to impose and project their own interpretation upon the painting, creating a continuous dialogue with the artist. A dawn chorus, a vast mountain scene, a cup of hot tea, the soulfulness of Guqin, together with fresh air and natural floral scents, they bring me back to simplicity, and remind me of the ideal lifestyle that I always dreamt of.

Published on 25 April, 2020

by Zhang He, White Space Art Asia