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Art Critic Review of Painter Zhang Enli’s "The Garden"

Written for a newsprint review of a gallery show.

[ Note: There are images involved with this essay, for the full essay, please see here on ]

If traditional Chinese fine art budded a romance with modern abstract vision, then Zhang Enli (1965)’s work is surely proof of this vivid fusion. Born in Jilin, China, Zhang Enli is a contemporary painter that lives and works in Shanghai. Known as a “champion of overlooked spaces and objects”, ‘The Garden’ draws its inspiration from the hidden biotics forms found within “industrialized cityscapes”. But, the kaleidoscopic effect does not only transport audiences to a microscopic gaze, it also viscerally whispers of artistic traditions from afar.

Thus as one walks throughout the luminescent gallery, there is clear evidence of the work’s traditional Chinese roots. Formally shown through light, feathered brush strokes, the airy pigments effortlessly mimics the slow cadence of fine bamboo brush ink drawings. With oil paints ranging from the earthy shade of yellow ochre to the deeper liquid hues of phthalo green, the colors lightly sweep over its canvas. Combining an intrinsic sensibility of Chinese ink washes, the work both formally speaks to biology through its colorful structure whilst being conceptually abstract in its loose composition.

The paintings do not remain in traditional renderings of nature, it is reminiscent of its roots, but is also fully fluid in making audiences ponder on what one does not usually see. As Zhang aimed to portray “ specific fragment of [scenes], as if enlarged through the viewfinder of a camera”, he removes the classical portrayal of realistic, one-to-one still lifes, and instead inserts an abstract perspective of a wing (for example) broken down to its cellular structure. In both Zhang’s technique and conception, “The Garden” fervently lives up to the promise of a metaphysical world of wonder through lightly painted glimpses that parallels a traditional Chinese masterpiece.