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Evolution since the 1980s
Shanghai Gallery of Art

It is thanks to the unique sense of anachronism embedded in his practice that Zhou Yunxia’s works produced during the past thirty years could present a relatively complete picture of the evolution of art history along the way. But if we go one step further, apart from the sense of anachronism, it should also be ascribed to the surrealistic spirit exuded from his works. He is passionately obsessed with keeping a considerable distance from his times and the mainstreams. For years he has been either ahead of or behind his times, which is demonstrated in different forms during different periods: the conflicts between soul and body in the 80s and early 90s, the somewhat epiphanic expression of daily experience in late 90s and the organic integration of identity, visual language and surrealism since the new millennium. Zhou Yunxia’s sense of surrealism is related with biology, which in turn imbues his work with a sense of organicism. In his work, there is an intriguing distance between the code of reality, the sequence of time and people’s daily experience, and the sense of contrast ignited from within is an intentional choice he makes in order to construct life awareness and stick to the ultimate concern. As an artist who has been influenced by and in the meantime influencing upon his times, the intimacy as well as estrangement between him and the social trends lay the foundation for the textures of our times and is delineated in a visual way.


帷幕, 布面油画 Curtain, oil on canvas, 113 x 82cm, 1985

Born in 1958, Zhou Yunxia was one of the “sent-down youth”-generation and later worked as a cook for a while. Before the “85 New Wave” he was already actively involved in the various art movements and collectives and hence was considered a witness of the dramatic period of Chinese contemporary art. The over thirty years of artistic practice and exploration of Zhou could be taken as a sample through which people can get a quite holistic and clear picture of those unforgettably exciting historical moments. It’s very lucky for us that Zhou Yunxia manages to keep a relevantly complete record of the works he has produced during the course of time, making it possible for us to conduct a systematic investigation into the development of his art, probing into the dynamics between the development path of an artist as an individual and that of the overall social and historic backgrounds.


公主裙, 蟾皮,Princess’s skirt, toad skin, 130×80×75cm, 2005

Zhou Yunxia’s early works produced in the 1980s mostly featured traits of expressionism. With a combination of vehement colors and the imagery of surrealism he managed to express an individual’s critique towards the social life and historical culture. During this period, he also tried to introduce elements of abstraction into his work. From middle to late 1990s, a shift of attention to daily life could be perceived in his work. In other words, the sense of tragedy that was previously observed in his work was now transformed into a sense of everydayness and accessibility. Entering the new century, on the one hand he started to ponder upon the issue of cultural identity, which led to the “Mahjong” series; and on the other hand, he endeavored to get back to the nature of visual language, attempting to seek for a kind of “organic” expression through the expressiveness of colors and brushstrokes as well as abstract lines and dots. During this period, he once used toad skin as material in order to build a linkage between this particular material and aesthetics as well as daily life in the form of art.

虚无的日子, 布面丙烯,Days in Vain, acrylic on canvas, 55x65.8cm, 2002

虚无的日子, 布面丙烯,Days in Vain, acrylic on canvas, 55×65.8cm, 2002

Experimentation and exploration have always been the two key words in his long and enriched career of art. Within the context of contemporary art, he was one of the pioneers to resort to ink art, which was the very traditional Chinese art form and has been playing a prominent role in his works produced during different times ever since. Moreover, he also made a bold step to introduce elements of performance art, site-specific production, new materials and transformation of meaning into his work. It seemed it all came natural to him who was never trained in official art academies. It is his intriguing life stories, profound experience, energetic view of life and philosophical approach that have imbued each of his works unique vitality.

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  • 虚无的日子, 布面丙烯,Days in Vain, acrylic on canvas, 55x65.8cm, 2002