12 of Zhong Biao’s paintings, the huge work that records them, two mirrored walls that stand at right angles to it and the infinite repetitions generated by them, turn Xin Dong Cheng’s art space into a “microcosm”. And the “cosmos” within it absorbs the passing crowds at the exhibition’s entrance, making them a part of the large-scale artwork through their reflections, creating an image with instantaneous appearances and constant changes. This is Zhong Biao’s cumulative painting work “Beyond Painting”.


Soaring Light


Just as in his previous works, Zhong Biao’s new works flicker with brilliant light, all objects whether presented in interior or exterior space are enveloped by it. The powerful and encompassing nature of the light makes his works bright, relaxed, open and clean. In a departure from the sources of cold light in previous works, the main piece amongst his new works, including the “paintings within paintings” are illuminated by a warm glow, a tone of light born out of volcanic clouds and setting suns, perhaps it is the glow of distant fires.  Yet it is distance that makes these observations abstract, warmth is injected into the canvasses with their large blank spaces. It is a light that is all-enveloping, aside from the faint suggestion of a religious feeling that floats in the vacuum, it presents an abstract measurement with which to gauge the whole of existence, just like time – that is real without losing its elusive nature.


As well as the light, there are those soaring images that appear from time to time in Zhong Biao’s artwork. Those figures that seem to break away effortlessly from the forces of gravity and fly away, seeming to have left behind the reality of their own pure movements.  The impression in viewing the work is simplified into a light-hearted mood, which is created instantaneously, without consideration. Those movements, drawn away from gravity, carelessly arranged in surroundings that conform to gravity. Zhong Biao utilises his painterly language to reveal the possibility of a surface differentiated from the two-dimensional, rather than creating a manifesto. This state of painting remains enveloped in that omnipresent brightness, in which a sense of compassion is barely perceptible yet ever present.


Folding Space-Time


The contemplation and manipulation of space-time presents a calm and elegant quality in Zhong Biao’s paintings.  Apart from the accustomed miscellany of illogically related forms, and even the “paintings-within-paintings” structure of recent years that we have become familiar with, there are specifically three blank canvasses, interspersed within the “paintings-within-paintings”, whose titles are “Let us go then, you and I”, “Work Unfinished” and “Finale”. Whether they are intended to be Zhong Biao poking fun at himself or an expression of a more entire meaning, they appear in playful role in the gaps between truly existent spaces.  Appearing abruptly in the massive space-time to disturb our gaze, musical notes larval-like in delicacy begin to sound in that moment. They too are ellipses that require us to pay special attention in order to discover them, discarding the complex thoughts of inertia, questioning of values; they are chance moments of tranquility amidst the raucous clamour of the world.


The most attractive thing about Zhong Biao’s painterly language is his masterful direction of forms representing the trials and tribulations of life. Seeing his technically accomplished paintings for the first time, one is left with the deep impression of photo-realism, whilst the spiritual line of them is combined with a surrealist flavour. Careful examination of the treatment of the forms in the paintings reveals similarities to Peter Nager彼得•纳格 in their mixed use of monochrome and colours. It is only that Zhong Biao goes further from his motif based upon space-time; he breaks through the impression of two-dimensional space.  In terms of space he utilises “paintings-within-paintings” and even eliptical forms to create repeated juxtapositions, making the experience of viewing his paintings drift towards the three-dimensional, whilst adding the theme of the variations of time makes this drift expand to the four-dimensional, or even further. The chain-reaction created by the repetition, overlapping and permeation of space-time naturally brings about a miscellany of visual memories, states of consciousness and synchronistic experience. The seemingly clear-cut forms have all been placed by Zhong Biao into a muddled world controlled by the interweaving of the random and the certain, here meeting with fate becomes a rough conclusion to analyse. Owing to the wilful destruction of the logical understanding of the continuity of space-time in Zhong Biao’s painterly language, fragmentary objects are represented in an illogical way, this metaphorical reference to the chaotic state of contemporary cultural concepts and values is not opposition or ridicule, but a kind of summons. That chaotic state can cover over and renew rigid conventional concepts, with the passage of time the undercurrent rises to the surface to become the mainstream, it is a force sufficient to bring about the destruction of certain pre-determined values, at the same time it promotes the generation of new concepts and is the hotbed for all sorts of possibilities.


The Image of Photography


Zhong Biao’s independent painterly language presents a marriage between photo-realism and surrealism. Zhong Biao has never avoided the issue of taking images directly from photographs, he even goes as far as to present photography itself. Photographers appear repeatedly in paintings such as “Dark Lens”, “Don’t Let me be the Last to Know”, “A.D. 1913”, “A.D. 2006” and “A.D. 2148”. In these new pieces of artwork, once more there is a journalist taking a photograph, and other figures holding cameras.


The “montage” of images displayed in “Beyond Painting” differs from traditional Chinese scroll paintings in that the images displayed in the same time-space are without common temporal or locational markers.  The display of space and the continuity of narrative are stripped away, the entire painting displays a structure of non-narrative continuity, emphasising the freedom of illogicity. David Hockney, inspired by Chinese scroll paintings, using multi-viewpoints to attempt a kind of collage photography, showing an alternative possibility of contemporary spatial existence. Whereas Zhong Biao does not employ common Chinese symbols as is the habit of contemporary Chinese artists, it is his roaming Chinese point of view free from Chinese symbols that form his visual experience of the overload of information that just as rapidly becomes useless, from our supersonic information society.


In contrast to the lack of Chinese symbols, popular cultural icons frequently appear in Zhong Biao’s work. This quality again recalls Peter Nager and his own use of popular cultural images (such as Disney characters and Pop colours). Zhong Biao often treats the majority of his canvas, the figures or large objects (such as buildings) in monochrome or charcoal, as if their colours have faded away with time, whilst he executes other objects such as an enamel cup, a red flag, coloured helium balloons, the big “M” of Macdonald’s, in brilliant colours that create a visual bright-point. Like a kleptomaniac, he gathers together these well-known symbols that are lost throughout the passage of time, he pushes major events behind the details of common everyday life, weaving a surrealist narrative representation, a visual epic of continual surging movement, which is where the meaning of Zhong Biao’s artwork lies.