Friday, 17 April 2015

Zhang Enli - Hauser and Wirth, Somerset

The Water (1), Zhang Enli 2014, Oil on canvas, 300 x 250 cm

Is this the new Monet?

On show at Hauser and Wirth in Somerset (until June 21st) are a dozen large paintings by Zhang Enli that immediately reminded me of Monet's paintings of his garden in Giverny.

On walking into the room in which they hang, I was immediately struck, as I have often been when seeing Monet's paintings, by an overwhelming feeling of awe. These paintings are big. And they are impressionist. They're not as big as many by Monet, but they are big enough to strike you with wonderment.

The artist has slashed at the canvas with bold strokes of thin paint. Over and over again. You can imagine him working. Quickly. With an impression of water in his mind, an impression that he wants to capture before he loses it.

The image reproduced above is, I imagine, of trees reflected in water, as they often are with Monet. Other paintings in this set are impressions of fields or water or the sea, all equally impressive.

In a second room we have a whole room filled with trees. It's a small room, but an impressive one. This time it is watercolour applied directly to the walls, the ceiling and the floor. [I have to admit, I didn't notice the floor, but that's what the handout says]. I was too busy looking up. Or looking very closely at the wall. Is that really watercolour?.

Looking up. That's a good thing. The room embraces you. It's not so much like being there, as being somewhere even more pleasant and special, because you can't get that impressionist feeling from nature. This room is not just nature. It's super nature. It's supernatural.

[It's a room that I would like to capture on video. I think it needs that medium to recreate the effect of being there. Sadly, photography is not allowed, so I couldn't try my hand. My phone probably wasn't up to it anyway].

As if that wasn't pleasure enough, in the third room there are some elegant tree paintings. These trees are painted with affection. The kind of affection that Georgia O'Keefe had for trees. They reminded me too of Mondrian's early efforts to capture the essence-of-tree as he travelled on his journey from expressionism to abstraction.

I don't imagine Zhang Enli cares to be compared to these other artists; but it takes nothing away from his originality, in my opinion, and for me at least, ranks him with some of the greats of western art.