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Zhang Xiaogang  

ZHANG Xiaogang China b. 1958
Three comrades (from 'Bloodline: The big family' series) 1994
Oil on canvas
150 x 180cm
Purchased 1996.
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
Reproduced by permission of the artist

Zhang Xiaogang

About the work
The rapid growth of consumerism in China during the 1990s caused Zhang Xiaogang to begin his series of paintings 'Bloodline: The big family'. In this series, the artist comments on a range of social issues related to the place of the individual within 'modern' Chinese society.

Three comrades is one of many family groups painted by Zhang Xiaogang in this series. However, this is not a painting of a standard Chinese family. Zhang's 'comrades' can be seen as belonging to Chairman Mao's great 'revolutionary family', where all individuals were brothers and sisters, irrespective of traditional family ties.

Mao's Cultural Revolution of 1966-77 saw the destruction of many historical icons, including family photographs. Family photographic portraiture was a strong tradition in China, and it is the loss of these precious memories that Zhang Xiaogang addresses in his 'Bloodline: The big family' series.

Zhang creates a sense of nostalgia in his compositions by utilising the conventions of the traditional Chinese photographer. Like his photographic predecessors, he uses dramatic lighting effects and flat anonymous backgrounds to idealise his subjects. In this work, the figures are painted with a smooth pearly finish reminiscent of porcelain, but are lacking in emotion and turn detached faces to the world.

To the artist, these faces are representative of a society striving to exist in an increasingly commodifed and dehumanised world. The comrades hide their individual personalities and histories behind the facade of a standardised portrait. Lacking in specific gender, they appear so similar that we are forced to search for subtle characteristics - the turn of an eye or a pair of glasses - that dictate their individuality.

The thin red lines running through this painting represent the 'big family' ties - the 'bloodlines' - that connect the three comrades and bind them together as a group. They are also a link to the past and emphasise that family relationships have always been important in Chinese society.

About the artist
Zhang Portrait Zhang Xiaogang trained as an oil painter at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1982. He joined a group of young avant-garde artists who came to international prominence during the 1980s. Since that time, he has been represented in many major international exhibitions, including 'Mao Goes Pop' at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1993, the 1994 Sao Paolo Biennale and the 1995 Venice Bienniale. Zhang was a joint founder of the Current of Life painters, and his earlier paintings looked back to the traditional roots of rural Chinese culture to explore human values.
Zhang Xiaogang

Other lines to follow for Zhang Xiaogang
Zang Xiaogang ZHANG Xioagang
Two comrades with red baby (from 'Bloodline: The big family' series) 1994
Oil on canvas
150 x 180cm
Collection: The artist

Reproduced by permission of the artist

'We all live "in a big family". The first lesson we have to learn is how to protect ourselves and keep our experiences locked up in an inner chamber away from the prying eyes of others, while at the same time living in harmony as a member of this big family. In this sense, the "family" is a unit for the continuity of life and an idealised mechanism for procreation. It embodies power, hope, life, envy, lies, duty and love. The "family" becomes the standard model and the focus for the contradictions of life experiences. We interact and depend on each other for support and assurance.'

Zhang Xiogang quoted in Reckoning with the Past: Contemporary Chinese Painting [exh. cat], Chang Tsong-Zung (curator), Graeme Murray et al., Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 1996, p.95.

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