The exhibition’s titular work and the earliest piece on view at UCCA is Parcours (1990), which is the French word for journey, route, or course. Zeng completed the work as a student at Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, during a time when the artist’s formal training was at odds with his instinctive means of expression. “When in class, I followed academic rules in my practice; after school, I would paint in my own way,” he recalls. “During this process, I learned to employ lines, color, and form in an experimental approach, and instead of mechanically copying subjects I began to let my emotions melt into my brushstroke.”
A painting on the cusp, a tipping point, Parcours serves as an early sign of Zeng’s distinct approach. “We see in this small work Zeng’s initial urge to use expressionist gestures to get beyond socialist realist orthodoxy—a key idea that underlies much of his following practice,” says Tinari. The artist understood the painting’s significance at the time he made it. “I chose this title primarily because I felt I had found a certain direction,” Zeng says. “I began to experience creation as taking a parcours, an exercise of remarkable freedom.”
The painting was shown in Zeng’s first solo exhibition at Hubei Institute of Fine Arts Gallery in 1990, attracting the attention of art critic Pi Daojian, whose glowing review was titled “Premature Maturity.” The critic’s words had an impact on Zeng. “The review was a great encouragement to me,” explains the artist. As a gesture of his appreciation, Zeng went on to gift the work to the critic.