Zhang was born in Shandong, China. He graduated from Wu Zuo Ren Art Secondary School in Beijing in 2001, and from the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing in 2005. He has a background in painting but has increasingly embraced photography. His work centres on images of young girls in deceptively innocent settings. He is an innocent and courageous artist who intends to capture the truths and contradictions of this world in his art.
Images of his work have appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times online and have appeared on the covers of numerous art magazines. He has recently exhibited at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Shanghai, the Chosun Ilbo Museum in Seoul, and is the youngest artist in the inaugural Chinese Contemporary exhibition of the new Saatchi Museum in London.
The work of Zhang Peng depicts the theme of growth after hurt. Obviously, youthful hurt is a major theme in Post-70 Chinese art. However, not a single artist after the 70s indulges in and absorbs himself in the fable-like representation of hurt and growth as much as Zhang Peng, who pushes this sense of hurt to an aesthetic extremity.
In his photography, you see that artistic representations of growth and youth hurt in post-70 art have already manifested themselves as visions of maidenhood, virginity, blood, and fear. In artistic language, Zhang Peng adopts a methodology of performance photography, while also demonstrating strong technical ability (through the many digitally modified portions). However, he makes the viewer forget these technicalities. Instead, the viewer is inevitably drawn to the eyes of the little girls, to their strange surroundings, to the scent of fear hanging over them, as well as to the red sofa and the arrowhead behind them.
This involuntary, inexplicable attraction derived from viewing these images are a result of not merely the hurt or its reasons, but from indulging in this aesthetic. By and large, Zhang Peng's photographs depict scenes of hurt that are suddenly reversed. These scenes are not just filled with expected feelings of fear and tension but are unusually quiet and solemn.
Take for example the little girl in a white tutu that is looking intently at the white kitten atop the red sofa. She is so tiny that the sofa seems like a huge red curtain that engulfs her, and fills the entire space. Gloomy light is focused on her and the kitten, and the overwhelming rich crimson of the sofa casts a reflection upon her pale skin, her white tutu, and the white kitten.
Zhang Peng's scenes of hurt seem to be symbols of visible sentimentality, but the images have a strong sense of aesthetics, with even a poetic feel to the room. This is because while the hurt and scars are strong and visible on the body of the little girl, she almost seems still unaware of the fear and terror that she had just experienced.
For a second, her self-consciousness is beyond herself. She is either looking at the kitten beside her, staring at someone or something in front of her, or engrossed in the aftertaste of dreamy distress while still clad theatrical costumes of high-ranking imperial concubines from Beijing opera.
Zhang Peng's photographs show a deep psychological penetrability that originates from a rich vocabulary of imagery that has nothing to do with the concept of language.
We can analyze Zhang Peng's works from the angle of Post-70 art, with fables of growth, themes of hurt, youth art and the symbolic relationship between innocence and virginity, with naiveté, etc.
But on the real image plane, Zhang Peng's images not only convey something about hurt but also of indulgence and fixation. The focus of his images is on the big eyes of the girl, which are twice their regular size though her body is far smaller than usual. This bodily proportion, gained through digital modification enhances the eyes to become the focus of viewers.
Actually, this is a psychological focus. The viewer sees the innocent, vulnerable and helpless scene in front of him, but when his gaze shifts to the expression in the eyes of the child, and their gazes connect, he somehow realizes that what is conveyed from the eyes have nothing to do with the horrific scene of hurt that just occurred.
On the contrary, the young child is immersed in objects or realms beyond the scene of hurt she is in. Hence, she becomes silent, as though at the point of terror or just immediately after, her attention suddenly shifts, and she swiftly becomes engrossed some object or an imagined thing.
Even though Zhang Peng's images show a kind of aesthetic sentimentality characteristic of other post-70 artworks, his sentimentality is so much more diverse and complex.
Zhang Peng's images offer a closed space for two senses to mutually penetrate and twist - like ghosts and naiveté, hurt and fascination, misery and strength. Oftentimes, he makes use of rich crimson and white in his compositions and juxtaposes them with gloomy, heavy black, as well as eerie bright blue.
Sex and violence are hinted at in Zhang Peng's artwork. Take for example the images of a blood-stained red carpet, a pregnant belly, a wedding dress and the voluminous skirt of the pregnant child. Violent elements include arrows in the dark, bloodstains around the eye, and the haunting scene of a high-ranking imperial concubine slitting her throat. However, sex and violence are merely to set the scene and do not constitute the themes.
The real elements are actually the indulged and dedicated eyesight and strange, heavy and gloomy tone. These scenes shift outdoors where the young girl is sitting quietly in the middle of the forest, somnambulating under the first rays of the morning sun. The outdoor scene only serves to emphasize the girl's attention to an imagined scene beyond reality, but not the engrossed engagement itself.
As for video and images in indulgence, mainly red and white, the girl just keeps her eyes widely open and totally forgets sufferings and fears. We can see similar themes in his oil paintings though oil paintings are more formalized. In the picture, Zhang Peng's little girl shows an extreme non-ego state that helps the girl realize her true ego.
Undoubtedly, this high-level ego state of non-ego also applies to Zhang Peng himself as an artist. There seems to be a transfer chain between the girl and him. He is fixated with the little girl, regardless of himself, while the girl also looks on at an unknown person or thing. Through gazing and indulging in another unrelated scene, she manages to evade the pain and sufferings, albeit unintentionally.
What exactly is the scene about, then? Perhaps it can be regarded as aesthetic, clever, spiritual, imaginary, or it could be hinting that a special experience is approaching. Zhang Peng's artworks are not merely scenes of extraordinary beauty, but are futuristic and surpassing non-ego state gained through the attention to others, and if someone imagined being indulged in a specific thing.
In fact, this is very much the way of self-existence for post-70 art. They no longer care about external reasons and solutions but develop an introverted indulgence through direct image vocabulary. As an artist of post-80 art, Zhang Peng makes his way towards a deeper extremity through this.
Written by ZHU QI
JM Art Management