Zhuang Hong Yi (b. 1962) is a contemporary Chinese artist who has impressed global audiences with his unique style. His work has been exhibited in China, the U.S. and throughout Europe, including Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and Spain. The artist has been the subject of multiple museum exhibitions and his work is held in numerous esteemed public and private collections worldwide. His works represent beauty, sophistication and a high level of perfection with a clear presence of Chinese influence represented in his use of colours, themes, shapes and materials.
Currently based in the Netherlands, Zhuang Hong Yi was born in 1962 in Sichuan, China. After having finished his artistic education at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute – the oldest and one of the most prestigious art academies in China – he and his wife (Chinese artist Lu Luo, b. 1971) moved to Groningen, the Netherlands, where they both became apprentices at the established Minerva Academy. After finishing his studies in 1997, Zhuang quickly received artistic recognition. Many exhibitions followed, including the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam (1999) and a solo show at the Groninger Museum (2001), a preeminent internationally renowned Dutch museum for contemporary art. After this show, Zhuang received invitations to present his spectacular works in museums and galleries all over the world. In 2007, the Groninger Museum honoured him and his wife Lu Luo with a large duo exhibition called ‘Atelier Beijing’.
As a result of his upbringing and education in China and the international experience and inspiration he has gained in Europe, one can recognise features from his background which at the same time are gracefully combined with strong Western allure. Even after many years of residence in Europe – where he works from a major studio space in Capelle aan de IJssel – Zhuang holds studios in Beijing, where he travels several times a year to work, collect new materials and to get inspiration, and in Jingdezhen, where he paints and produces his porcelain works.
The flower motif dominates the artwork of Zhuang Hong Yi. Year after year he works patiently and religiously on this subject alone. The flower is a significant image in Chinese culture, which carries countless meanings and emotions. Zhuang’s ‘flower beds’ are crafted from delicate pieces of painted rice paper, bent and folded into hundreds of tiny buds. Utilising a traditional Chinese material, the works also represent traditional Chinese aesthetics: they are meditations on colour, nature and form.
His canvas paintings bear the influence of Impressionism and other Western artistic practices. Zhuang Hong Yi’s impasto strokes are expressive and unconfined, colours melt together, and paint drips down the canvas, seeping over a collage of delicately unfolded rice paper flowers. The sculptural three-dimensional quality turn his work both into painting and object. Messiness, variety and chance are all embraced, evidencing Zhuang’s liberation in terms of both aesthetics and technique. Like the flowerbed works, these paintings draw the viewer in, encouraging contemplation as they immerse us in a tapestry of colour and form.
Zhuang Hong Yi’s work is built upon his native country’s well-established artistic traditions and boundaries, which he has married with the Netherlands’ encouragement of freedom of style. Embracing his present without losing his past and he is attempting to define a sense of self that exists between the two. This is the personal struggle that Zhuang enacts visually and through his artistic process, which vacillates between phases of controlled planning, emotional gesture, and careful editing. Objects of appealing beauty, mystery and allure; at once foreign and familiar.
The emphasis on technique and uniformity, and the focus on the artist’s handling of material are all lessons Zhuang Hong Yi adopted at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where an academic attitude is predominant, focusing on traditional skills such as printing techniques (wood carvings and lithographies) and figure drawing after models. His work in The Netherlands is characterised by realism and figuration as well, although in a decreasing way. Typical are his ‘Head’-series; portraits, sometimes only the abstracted shape of a head, on large canvases. The rice paper flower finds his introduction towards the end of the 90’s, together with a collage-like technique. The ‘flowerfields’, which Zhuang is still famous for, are to be found in his work around 2005-2006.