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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Zhang Fan

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Today we are speaking with Zhang Fan, an artist living and working in Wuhan, China. Zhang Fan's unique perspective on life and his thought-provoking critiques have gained attention and sparked reflection in the midst of challenging times. With a deep understanding of the fragility of existence and a desire to shed light on pressing societal issues, Zhang Fan invites us to delve into his profound insights.

13 June 2023

My name is Zhang Fan, and I live and work in Wuhan, China.

There is an uncomfortable atmosphere in the air, the physical body proves nothingness and existence, and there is only one thing in life that is very certain, that is, life is death at the end, and everyone is born to death. There are many problems these days, and what I want to express is a critique and thinking about real life, such as fighting and stampede of the crowd is the metaphor of the game of interests between people, medical supplies are traces of diseases affecting human beings, and burning abandoned vehicles is a warning of the deterioration of the ecological environment, hoping to attract people's attention and reflection.

Let's start from the basics. What background and studies helped you develop into the artist you are today?

I basically don't consider myself an artist, and if I do, an artist is my second identity. Perhaps it was fate to work in art, I studied painting very early, then entered the Academy of Fine Arts, and now I am an art teacher at a University in Wuhan. Artistic creation means work and a way of expression for me, and if my works have their own unique expression and language, with a certain depth of thought and academic value, then I may be the so-called artist.


Can you tell us more about the specific emotions and messages you aim to convey through your artwork?

There is an uncomfortable atmosphere in the air, the physical body proves nothingness and existence, and there is only one thing in life that is very certain, that is, life is death at the end, and everyone is born to die. There are many problems these days, and my works are more concerned with the current state of existence and the meaning of life, and are criticism and thinking about real life. The disturbing behaviors and scenes I depict in my works are metaphors for the game of interests between people, and also hint at real problems such as physical injury and ecological deterioration, hoping to arouse people's attention and thinking.


These days-self-immolation by Zhang Fan. Image courtesy of Zhang Fan.

How has your experience living and working in Wuhan, China, influenced your artistic perspective and themes?

There is actually nothing particular that influences my artistic perspective and themes. However, I have never been much interested in so-called beautiful things, and I don't want to express them or how to express them. Overall, I think my artistic process is natural and gradual. It is worth mentioning that I live and work in Wuhan, China. Wuhan was the first city to be affected by COVID-19, and the strict lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan gave me time to think about the impact of the pandemic on people, which may have an impact on my art.


Your artwork often features uncomfortable or unsettling themes. How do you balance this with creating visually striking pieces that draw in viewers?

My works are more concerned with the current state of existence and the meaning of life, and an important aspect of contemporary art is to criticize and think about real life, and even challenge. So far, at least, I'm overwhelmed and indifferent to the so-called beautiful things. The dark side that makes people feel uncomfortable or uneasy, critique and reflect on real life and something boring is probably what I have always shown in my work. I can only express myself, and I may not consider the feelings of the audience, but I try to make my work ornamental and dissolve some disturbing emotions through some unique depiction techniques and color treatments.


These days-suppress by Zhang Fan. Image courtesy of Zhang Fan.

You have submitted a series of oil paintings entitled These Days. Can you walk us through your creative process, and the different paintings in the series?

The creative process of the "These Days" series of works is simple, and its themes are usually about the state of existence and the meaning of life behavior or typical scenes, such as fights, queues, onlookers, crowded stampedes, etc., which is basically a metaphor for the game of interests between people. I choose materials that are conducive to the expression of the work. First, I draw a draft and then complete the work with a depiction technique that has the characteristics of my own style. Abnormal color; alienated wrinkles; missing organs; broken teeth; boring and sanctimonious coats, symbolic images and daily scenes on strange and meaningful combinations, so not sure of the meaning of entanglement in the body like an incurable disease and appeared again and again. These days have a lot of problems, and there are social problems as well as our own problems. But in any case, the physical body proves nothingness and existence, and only one thing in life is very certain, that is, the end of life is death, everyone is born to die, I simply record and deconstruct this single deterministic fact in my own expressive language in a gamelike manner.


What role do you see art playing in societal critique and commentary, particularly in today's global climate?

Some artists or works of art may play an active role in current social criticism and may play a positive role in the progress and development of society. But in general, I think that the influence of art is limited in the wider world and the Grand social context.


These days-bite by Zhang Fan. Image courtesy of Zhang Fan.

Your work has been exhibited in many countries. How do you navigate cultural differences and ensure your message resonates with diverse audiences?

First of all, I think my works are relatively international and do not have many regional cultural characteristics. Although Chinese culture has always influenced my artistic creation and research, there are many things that may not be seen in my works, and it is a deeper influence. Secondly, my work is relatively easy to interpret because it basically represents real life, and I think that regional and cultural differences do not affect people's interpretation and understanding of real life. However, I think that the imagination of the audience will definitely be broader than the picture, and it is enough if my work can make people feel and think.


In your opinion, what responsibility do artists have to address social and political issues in their work?

An important aspect of contemporary art is the critique and reflection and even the challenge of real life and social issues, asking questions but not necessarily expressing opinions. In this sense, I believe that the responsibility of the artist's work to solve social and political problems is only to raise questions or challenge them. Whether it solves the problem is another situation, and it may have nothing to do with art.


These days-choking by Zhang Fan. Image courtesy of Zhang Fan.

Looking forward, what themes or messages do you hope to explore in your future artwork?

Painting is my main artistic expression, and the "These Days" series should continue, this series is a major thread of my artistic creation, and it will continue for the longest time. In addition, I have done many other works, including "Traces", "Flesh", "Burning" and so on. Life itself may be meaningless, and if I have some good ideas, I may do some conceptual works in the future to expand some new possibilities.


Finally, what advice would you leave our readers?

I am very happy to have the opportunity to talk to you and wish your magazine better and better. Now that it's the age of the internet, your magazine will play a huge role in creating a connection between artists and global audiences, but it's a problem that audiences can't see the original. I think it's normal for the audience to get any feeling from the artist's work, and if they have the opportunity, they may have more different feelings when they see the original work.


Cover Image:

These days-squeezing by Zhang Fan. Image courtesy of Zhang Fan.

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