6 Colorful Works by Chinese Artist Zhu Jinshi
Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi's densely layered, vividly hued paintings make a strong impression
Your first up-close encounter with the abstractions of Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi can be something of a shock. The paint, caked on as thick as cement, is vigorously pushed, pulled, and scraped across enormous canvases, producing kaleidoscopic surfaces that look a bit like an asphalt highway buckled by an earthquake. “The works don’t just hit your head—they hit your body. You can feel their physical weight immediately,” says Tim Blum, a partner in Blum & Poe gallery, which is presenting Zhu’s first New York solo show January 7 to February 20.
Having come of age during the Cultural Revolution, Zhu didn’t discover abstract painting until 1979, when he saw a book on Western artists such as Willem de Kooning. The effect on Zhu was profound. “I knew something big was going to happen,” he says, “though I did not know what.” Several years later he left China for a fellowship in Berlin, where he experimented with performance and sculptural installations and found an affinity for the paintings of Cy Twombly and Gerhard Richter, artists he says are his role models—and his “competitors.”
Such ambition would seem to belie the modesty of a man who paints in a nondescript Beijing high-rise, using trowels and palette knives to laboriously build up his roiling impastos on canvases laid across the floor. (It can take a year for some paintings to dry.) Comparing his process with that of another hero of his, Zhu notes that “Jackson Pollock was like a dancer, but I cannot dance. My paint is so heavy that it is more like fighting.”
For most of his career, Zhu worked outside the global spotlight, a situation that changed when he began showing with Pearl Lam Galleries and Blum & Poe a few years ago. Perhaps his biggest splash, however, came in 2013, when the Rubell Family Collection in Miami staged its “28 Chinese” exhibition, which featured a knockout selection of Zhu’s paintings as well as his 50-foot-long sculpture Boat,made of bamboo and 10,000 sheets of rice paper.
Still, Zhu is rather dispassionate about his recent success. “I’m never really satisfied with my work,” he remarks. “As Confucius said, One should never stop learning.”