Thorny images from China’s Zeng Fanzhi

Installation shot of Zeng Fanzhi's version of Durer's hare

Installation shot of Zeng Fanzhi’s version of Durer’s hare

It’s hard to fathom why Zeng Fanzhi is hailed as one of China’s superstar artists when you see his enormous paintings at Gagosian’s Britannia Street gallery (until Jan 19). Nine may be a lucky number, but it leaves the walls looking quite bare in what is one of his first showings in the West. True, the three works that greet you dwarf any viewer, but there is nothing particularly Oriental about them. He has taken iconic Western images – Dürer’s hare and praying hands, and an old man’s head, blown them up and then placed a lattice-work of tangled thorns over them, one that is not very visible in reproduction. The colours are bold and, certainly in the landscapes, rather unsubtle, but there is a glow to them and the technique of overpainting the thorns without smudging the basic image shows great skill. It’s only when paging through catalogues that you begin to understand how subversive and challenging this artist is, with his shocking depictions of people hiding behind masks. And to understand that perhaps he too felt the need of one when coming to the West.

Zeng Fanzhi's interpretation of iconic Western images

Zeng Fanzhi’s interpretation of iconic Western images

Thorny landscapes from Zeng Fanzhi

Thorny landscapes from Zeng Fanzhi

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