Zhang Wei was one of the first abstract painters in contemporary China. He joined a self-organized group of young painters to be known as the “No Name Group” in the early 1970s, and began to explore abstraction in the early 1980s until today.
Zhang Wei, born in 1952 in Beijing. Zhang Wei began painting en-plein-air in the early 1970s with a group of artists later to be known as the “No Name Group”. Still at the heat of the Cultural Revolution, these artists sought out means to channel their creative energy on canvas by venturing on clandestine trips in the parks or on the outskirts of the city. Without having received any formal art education, in Zhang Wei’s early phase of artistic practice, he aimed at rendering the impression of an object, figure or the landscape. The guidance he received from the older members of the group, Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu inspired him to discover his own visual language. His interest and knowledge in traditional Chinese painting, and his job at the Beijing Kunqu Opera Troupe further contributed to the artist’s inclination of drawing from his own impressionist elements and translating them onto canvas.
In the early 1980s, a traveling exhibition of American art presented at the National Art Gallery, in which the works of Franz Klein, Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler opened the eyes of the artist, an experience that provided him with firm belief and determination to experiment with abstraction. As of the early 1980s, Zhang Wei’s imageries became gradually reduced to executions of brushworks that created tension on canvas. Various visual elements are introduced into his practice over time, for example the notion in Daoism, in which, Zhang Wei applies a caustic logic of one leading to the next in the way he applied colors, others engage painting techniques of “water leakage” where the application of the oil and paint differentiate the texture on canvas, in other works, the notion of calligraphy, in particular, of the cursive style that emphasized on the energy of the calligrapher. On the one hand, Zhang Wei’s painting draws formal affinity to “action painting” in expanding the scale of a brush mark, while the energy executed remains aesthetically Chinese. The pertinent reason for the artist to have chosen oil painting as a medium of his art practice is that, in spite of techniques, visual cues or even notional guidelines in the making of these paintings, the aim of the artist is to give his own subjectivity a visual expression, a subjectivity that esteems freedom, which is largely absent in Chinese traditional culture.
Zhang Wei’s works have been the subject of major international exhibitions, M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art, ArtisTree, Hong Kong; Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985, China Institute Gallery, New York, USA. His works have been acquired by art institutions such as The Chicago Art Institute; the M+ Museum and other reputable private collections.