Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors @ the AGO

July 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the AGO’s current special exhibitions features the work of Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist based out of Shanghai and New York, who is mainly known for performance and body oriented work. While most of the AGO’s focus this summer has been marketing it’s massive Picasso retrospective, Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors, is a lesser-known gem that traces the very specific art process of Zhang Huan. After completing his studies in America and returning to his native China, Huan reformed his Buddhist beliefs, in turn becoming fixated on the aesthetic potential of burned incense ash. Similar to the act of burning incense in Buddhist services, Huan’s assemblage of large quantities of ash also became a rather ceremonialized practice. On a weekly basis, city trucks would deliver the temples’ ashes to Huan, who would then painstakingly sort through the specimen, dividing it according to gradation and texture, eventually applying the pigments to a linen canvas. In this sense, Huan’s utilization of a quasi-religious, creative ritual, aims to uncover the meeting point wherein which spiritual and corporeal cognitions meld.

Zhang Huan’s “Night” (2007)

“Night” (2007) is just one of Huan’s exemplary ash on linen works. The monumentally sized piece is centered on a scene of two faces in close-up at a party. The candid posing of the subjects and stark, contrastive shades of grey and black maintain a deceivingly photographic essence. “Night Raid” (2008) also displays the evocative potential of the ash medium, as through this work, Huan is able to capture the ocean’s roaring waves with as much depth as the highest quality of oil paints. Through Zhang Huan’s symbolically laden material process, his work explores issues of history, Chinese identity and the hierarchy of aesthetic culture.

Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors coincides with the recent unveiling of “Rising”, Huan’s major work of public sculptural art located at ShangriLa Toronto, a new complex of downtown luxury homes.

Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors runs until August 19, 2012

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