Zhang Enli 张恩利, ‘Eating #4’, 2000, Phillips

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

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From the Catalogue:
The Shanghai based Chinese artist, Zhang Enli, is widely celebrated for interrogating the mechanics of painting. With works collected by Tate Modern, London in 2007, he is among one of the earliest contemporary Chinese artists to be appreciated by prominent Western collections and galleries. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Zhang strategically avoids any political association in his oeuvre and engages himself solely with the depiction of experience and sensation. Inspired by German Expressionism in his earlier career, the artist concentrated on portraying the inner struggle and helpless frustration experienced by ordinary people in the 1990s. Since 2000, he gradually shifted his interest into tackling various subjects as disparate and mundane as still lifes, trees, the sky, and wire fences.

Painted in 2000, the year marking the climax of Zhang’s early Portrait series, Eating #4 exemplifies the artist’s mastery of portraying psychological nuances. The present lot is one of the finest examples of the Portrait series to ever come up at auction. Rendered primarily in dark blue and crimson, Zhang deliberately applies the paint layer by layer, so as to make the wild brushstrokes visible, unchangeable and even a formative trait of the painting. This work presents a scene from a supposed festival feast with an overlooking perspective, creating a distance between the depicted figures and the viewer, thus allowing the latter to observe the complicated human nature as a bystander. Starting from the indifferent facial expressions of the people indulging in food at the table in the foreground, then to the flattery themed table in the mid-left with a distorted female offering massage and two males serving wine and cigarette for the central figure, finally to the strained forearm muscle in ochre and revealing vessels resulting from a conflict at the corner table, the viewer’s attention is easily drawn into the canvas by the zigzag dynamism of the carefully rendered composition.

The art critic Li Xu once compared Zhang’s early works with The Scream by Edvard Munch and found “Zhang Enli’s works might rather be described as a long and flowing chant in the darkness, a chant for all the anonymous people in a moonless and starless night, with quiet all around and darkness hanging low.” (Li Xu, “Canto in Tenebris”, Zhang Enli, 1992-2000 Works, exh. cat., ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai, 2000, p. 11)

Underneath the surface of eating as a pastime in this work, the actions of each figure are demonstrative of their social status rather than mere enjoyment, offering a probe into the life experience of the ordinary yet tenacious people.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated 'ENLI 2000' lower right

Zhang Enli: Human, Too Human, exh. cat., BizArt, Shanghai, n.p. (illustrated)

ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.

About Zhang Enli 张恩利