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Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong (acquired directly from the artist)
Collection of the Schoeni Family
Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, 1+1: Guo Jin & Zeng Fanzhi, 4 May – 5 June 2000
Hong Kong, Gallery at 26 - 28 Horizon Drive, The Art Show: My Dream Collection, 6 July 2007
Gallery at 26 - 28 Horizon Drive, The Art Show: My Dream Collection, Hong Kong, 2007, unpaged, illustrated in colour
Schoeni Art Gallery Ltd., Latitude/Attitude: In Celebration of Schoeni Art Gallery's 29Th Anniversary, Hong Kong, 2012, p.192, illustrated in colour
Caroline Ha Thuc, After 2000: Contemporary Art in China, Mars International Publications, Hong Kong, 2015, p.144, illustrated in colour
Gladys Chung, Zeng Fanzhi: Catalogue Raisonné Volume I, 1984-2004 (English version), Skira editore S.p.A., Milan, 2019, p. 542-543, illustrated in colour
Gladys Chung, Zeng Fanzhi: Catalogue Raisonné Volume I, 1984-2004 (Chinese version), Skira editore S.p.A., Milan, 2019, p. 190, illustrated in colour
面具系列 2000 第3號
簽名：曾梵志 2000 Zeng Fanzhi（右下）
《2000年期後：中國當代藝術》，Caroline Ha Thuc著，Mars國際出版，香港，2015年，第144頁，彩圖
《曾梵志作品全集第一冊1984-2004》（英文版），鍾嘉賢著，Skira出版，米蘭，2019年，第542 - 543頁，彩圖
Zeng Fanzhi—Explorations and Transformations in Mid-to-Late Period Mask Series
Even though the schema and imageries of the Mask Series remained consistent over the span of ten years, Zeng Fanzhi never ceased exploring and evolving this set of works. Significant changes can be found in works from the mid-to-late period (specifically between 1997—2004). Compositions, brushwork, and even the use of colour became much more diverse. All these unprecedented transformations prove to be major breakthroughs in the trajectory of this series.
Works from this particular period feature an elegant and decisive palette. The figures shed their anxiety-ridden countenance from the early period and adopt a self-assured attitude. It is possible that this change corresponds to the psychological shift that Zeng went through in the year 2000. He was no longer the panic-stricken and unknown artist who had just arrived in the unfamiliar capital of Beijing. By this time, he had already completed his first Mask series exhibition in Hong Kong and subsequently showed his works in Chinese contemporary art group exhibitions in Hamburg and Bonn, Germany, Spain, and Singapore. Domestically, he was invited to participate in the critics' choice exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, as well as the 1998 touring exhibitions at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Courtyard Gallery, and ShanghART Gallery. Publishing catalogues, meeting collectors, and facing criticisms, all these experiences made Zeng more mature and confident. This advancement gave him the stability to develop creatively. As a result, figures in his works also adopted a more spirited appearance. This is most evident in the way that they discarded their previous awkward mannerisms—their hands are now at ease, resting in their waistcoat pockets. The attire of the figures are also noticeably more tailored and crisp. The boldness and eagerness to present themselves in front of others are unmistakable. The anguish and melancholia that dominated Zeng's early works are nowhere to be found. It is often said that the Mask series is autobiographical. As demonstrated in this regard, this set of works echoes the creative mood of the artist at this time.
Other than the imageries of the figures, the most iconic breakthroughs from the mid-to-late period of this series are the brushwork and the use of colour.
The artist had greatly reduced the painterly manners in the brushwork. The massive hands, the creases in the clothes, as well as the masks are no longer heavily textured as they were early in the series. Looking at the figures' hands, even the criss-crossing musculature and the tactile roughness of the skin are now smoothed over into a refine gloss. This change in the form of brushwork is connected to the masked figures' emotional states—their feelings are no longer openly expressed. They are replaced by more introspective and reticent expressions. In mid-to-late period Mask Series, the objective of exploration has shifted from brushwork to the use of colour. Zeng used highly saturated colours in a big way—vivid, flamboyant, and intensely high-chroma, these near-primary colours are flatly applied to the painting surface. Such directness resonates with the forthrightness and complacency of the figures. The textureless brushstrokes intensify the contrasting colours. This gives the paintings a sense of flatness that is akin to an artificial construct of "naturalness". As glamorous as a theatre stage production, these works give viewers the sensory experience of a fantasy, even though it is entirely fictitious. This treatment reflects a new state of mind in the Mask Series.
Zeng Fanzhi explained his approach to the Mask Series on multiple occasions, "I painted them to be extra glamorous, but also extra artificial like a theatre set on stage. These self-indulgent individuals are posing self-consciously, including their hands, as if they are waiting for someone to take their pictures. This is how vain urbanites carry themselves". In fact, this narrative aptly describes works in that Mask Series that were produced after 1997. The flatness of these works suggests a kind of spiritual delusion. By using different kinds of brushworks, colours, and other painterly elements, Zeng deftly conveys the emotional agitations inside these characters. The way in which the artist made these latent emotions and mental states apparent is an idiosyncratic treatment and an unconventional take on the portraiture tradition in painting.
The Mask Series has always been a spiritual portrait of a generation in tumultuous time. Although the Chinese economic reform had elevated everyone, from the nation as a whole to the individual, to a new stage of development, it was still an epochal change that brought tremendous anxieties and confusion. Zeng's masked figures retain these complicated emotions, but the artist opted for a more subtle and introspective way to express them. This approach is closely linked to the second symbolically significant change in works from the mid-to-late period: the use of three-tone composition and spatial conception.
Zeng abandoned the monochrome background that he used in early compositions. In its place is a three-tier composition divided by colours—the background in the distance is the sky; in the middle ground is the ocean; the foreground is occupied by the land and figures. This spatial arrangement creates a richly layered narrative. Rigorously constructed, the interlocking colour planes convey a sense of mechanical rationality that is cold and apathetic. This is precisely how the artist pictured the urban nouveau riche in this period. Although the horizon in the distance has a stabilising effect, the crashing waves disrupt this stillness by cutting across the picture diagonally. It also suggests that this destabilising element will continue to extend outside the frame into the imagined unknown. At the same time, the masked figures often walk towards the viewer either in a frontal or diagonal fashion. The result is that the picture is always dissected with horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines and motions. The deceptive calmness of these paintings is charged with latent conflict and destructive power, and the composition speaks to this undercurrent of emotional distress. The sense of restlessness of an era can be hidden, but it cannot be easily tamed, and the artist incisively captured and expressed these sentiments in his works.
Not only did Zeng Fanzhi continue to develop the concept of the Mask paintings throughout the series, but he also used them as an opportunity to reevaluate issues that are pertinent to the painting discipline and the profound changes of an era.
Contemporary art expert, Editor of Zeng Fanzhi, Catalogue Raisonné
這時期的面具繪畫，伴隨着瑰麗明快的色調，人物的神態也由早期惶恐焦灼變為顧盼自豪的自信神態。這或許也是對應了2000年前後藝術家的心理狀態。他不再是初來北京的無名藝術家，面對陌生環境十分彷徨。他經歷、成熟了許多，在香港完成他的首個《面具系列》展覽，把作品帶到德國漢堡、波恩、⻄班牙、新加坡參加 中國當代群展、中國美術館的批評家提名展等，甚至迎來1998年巡迴北京中央美院、四合苑畫廊及上海香格 納畫廊的展覽。出版畫冊、面對藏家、接受評論，無不使藝術家更趨自信從容，創作狀態穩定發展，筆下的人 物因此也有着神釆飛揚的形象。具體表現在手的形態，自在從容的掛在馬甲，已經不是往日無所適從的情態; 人物穿着的衣履剪裁更為貼身挺拔，敢於以自信傲然的姿態站於人前。主導着早期作品的苦澀沉鬱氣氛一掃而 空。常說《面具系列》帶有自傳性的意味，此即一例，它的繪畫形式常常呼應了畫家當時的創作心境。
藝術家減弱繪畫性的筆觸，無論是描繪面具、碩大的雙手、衣履的皺褶，都沒有過去作品常見的厚重肌理， 甚至減少了人物雙手上肌肉盤結的紋理，抹平了交錯皴擦、激烈厚重的筆觸質感，取而代之是被細細打磨般的 平滑亮澤質感。筆觸形式的改變，關連的是面具人物的情緒，不再坦率流露，轉而以更內歛深藏的方式呈現出來。色彩更是取代了筆觸形式，成為《面具系列》 中後期的探索重點。藝術家大量採用飽和度高的色系，明 亮、瑰麗、鮮艷、濃重、近乎原色的色彩平塗畫面，莫不呼應了人物從容舒坦，躊躊滿志的自信神態。抹平筆 觸肌理，增強了色彩的對比度，都在賦予作品一種平面感，一種以人工虛構天然，如舞台般華麗精緻，夢幻但 虛假的觀感，呼應了面具人物全新的精神狀態。
曾梵志曾多次提及他對《面具系列》 的一種處理方式:「把它畫得特別燦爛，但也特別的虛假，就像舞台上 的一種布景，人都是一種自我安慰，等着誰來拍照的很做作的姿態，包括人的手，一種假裝出來的得意的城裡 人的姿態。 」事實上，這段自述更多對應1997年後的面具作品，這時的作品，以繪畫的平面感暗示了精神的 虛幻感;進而運用不同的筆觸形式、色彩等純繪畫的元素，更巧妙地傳達人物內心的情感悸動，把那種幽微隱 約的精神狀態表現出來，是藝術家對肖像這一傳統畫題的獨特處理方式。
藝術家一改過去單色背景的構圖形式，以色彩把畫面分割為三段結構，呈現為遠景的天空 — 中景的海洋 — 前 景的陸地與人物的空間層次，組合出豐富的故事情境。嚴絲合縫、 極為精準嚴密的結構色面，傳達了機械式 的理性冷漠，恰好是中後期《面具系列》對城市新貴的一種想象。遠景有水平線，但海浪卻又橫空出世似的， 從側向斜角的角度插入畫面，破壞了靜止的畫面，也暗示了持續向外延伸至未知的空間想象。與此同時，他的 面具人物常以正面、或是斜向的角度向前方的觀眾走來，於是畫面往往同時出現橫向、斜向、縱向等幾種不同 的線條形式，靜止之中隱藏了衝突與破壞，畫面結構暗含有一種精神情緒。時代的燥動不安，可以被隱藏，但 不易被馴服，卻被藝術家敏銳地捕捉及表現出來了。