“Highly inventive, her work is a public display of an emotional encounter with a personal and intimate self-referential bodily experience—and is an exploration of both female (and also male) bodies…The tension between their visual and haptic aspects draws the viewer into the kinesthetic and physiological process of their making”. (Betti-Sue Hertz)
Stella Zhang was born in Beijing and grew up raised in a household steeped in the arts. Her father was Zhang Ping (1934-2015), a highly regarded brush-and-ink painter of landscapes and nature and a professor at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). She attended CAFA for both high school and college. In 1990 Zhang moved from Beijing to Tokyo. She studied Japanese traditional painting at Tama Art University before transferring to Tokyo Art University where she earned an M.F.A. In 2003, she moved again, this time to the United States, and has since been living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Zhang’s art is her way of interpreting various emotions and spiritual thoughts in order to show the true aspects of human nature. Her ideas are based on her identity. She chooses raw and ordinary materials to create familiarity, intimacy, and to stir emotions, and simply to create the effects of flatness, delicacy, and tranquility. These choices enable her to engage in personal reflections bordering on meditation. Her work extemporaneously disregards rules and boundaries in an attempt to channel her intimate needs of expression.
In Zhang’s search for a visual language that connects viewers to an unnamable, female struggle she employs the concept of “0,” which appears in a variety of works. She employs, in paintings such as 0-Viewpoint-8-5, 2015 and 0-Viewpoint-8-17, 2014, slits, ovoids, or gaping holes in a pictorial field of monochrome or near monochrome color featuring centrally located openings. Through it we can even see the wall beyond, a disruptive effect vis-à-vis the traditional acceptance of the canvas as its own world. In cases where the holes are a part of a larger pictorial scene such as 0-Viewpoint-02, 2010, other actions—wrapping and knot ties, twisted fabric and bulges stuffed with cotton batten—displace the primacy of the opening—replacing wholeness with messy landscapes of creases, bunching and folds. The actual physical rending of fabric is an undeniable recognition of a more turbulent and psychological relationship within the self and a manifestation of a restless soul.
This exhibition also features three of Zhang’s ink on paper paintings for the first time, which in a way mimics the notched vertebrae of a human spine. “Zhang’s marriage of body and landscape is deft and unusual in form”, as curator Betti-Sue Hertz states, “Her attitude seems to extend back nearly a millennium to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Its artists cultivated “mind landscape,” in which description is enriched by personal feelings.” And Betti-Sue Hertz further asserts that “Although considering Zhang’s work without acknowledging its roots in brush-and- ink painting, would render its characterization incomplete, her art practice does not fit comfortably within only a Chinese reading either…Zhang’s sculptures live between these two cultural and philosophical worlds, Western dualistic thought and Chinese concepts of continuity and flow…Zhang navigates a path in which things and experiences are named and owned, struggling against binaries, while still dependent on them for definition and communication. As she relies on them they melt away in her midst—male/female, black/white, pure/tainted, flat/dimensional. Zhang speaks of tenderness and flexibility as well as the space between reality and dream.”
About the artist
Stella Zhang was born in Beijing, China. She received her BFA at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 1989. In 1990, Stella moved from Beijing to Tokyo. She studied at Tama Art University before transferring to Tokyo Art University and earned her MFA in 1996. She has been living in the United States since 2003.
Zhang’s work has been exhibited in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the US, and is in the collections of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, Tan Shin Fine Arts Museum, Tokyo, among other institution and private collections. She has published six monographs and received many awards and recognitions, including Artist-in-Residence at Stanford University. She is currently a guest instructor at Stanford University.