In a society where flaws and imperfection are mostly hidden, removed or covered, Zhang Shujian (Hunan, China, 1987) refuses to conform to the established standard of aesthetics. He rather paints all details of the face in his photorealistic portraits. Lovingly, he points out the beauty in a toothless grin or the heavy, wrinkled eyelids of an elder man. In fine brushstrokes he paints single hairs on his panels and adds every single freckle, pimple or blemish. “I have always been good at recognizing parts of a whole. Details have always stuck in my consciousness in a very particular way. […] I see things that other people tend to overlook or ignore, those little, ordinary, atypical, and curious things.” Typical in his paintings and drawings is the meticulousness he uses to depict skin. In pencil on paper or with thin layers of oil paint, varnish and lacquer - techniques that resembles Gothic Tempera painting on board - he creates pieces that capture more than the image of a person.
Zhang Shujian’s portraits are exercises of great detail, investigations of the human body, and most of all explorations of character. After his first solo exhibitions of portraits of those near him – his girlfriend, his gallerist, teachers and friends – he began to draw strangers. Amongst them are reinterpretation of sketches of German realist and Renaissance Masters. “Borrowing from the sketches of the masters as bases is because I want these historically classic forms to be brought to live in my own way in this era I live in. I think the title of the zombie movie The Living Dead is a fitting phrase for this.” Most recently and shown at Solo Project are assemblages of images; piled up chins and hands covering hands that cover other hands.
Whether he portrays those close to him or complete strangers, Zhang seems to capture as much detail as a photo does. The artist stresses however that his work, in meaning and method, moves far beyond the idea of painting a work as if it is a photo; his works capture memory and imagination, even if the subject he paints sits in front of him. He emphasizes those features of his subject that resonate to him. He portrays what he sees and what he remembers. Those features may not be the same someone else sees, but are a depiction of the artist’s fascination. In this sense his portraits are as much self-portraits as they are representations of his model.
It is often said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Zhang Shujian paints the beauty of imperfection. Regardless his subjects and their representations one can say without doubt that Zhang Shujian translates these imperfections in a stunning way.
Zhang Shujian’s works have been shown in solo and group exhibitions in a.o. Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Amsterdam and London. His sought-after works are part of private, corporate and public collections.
2006-2010 Department of oil painting, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China
2014 THE SOLO PROJECT, BASEL, CANVAS INTERNATIONAL ART, AMSTERDAM (FORTHCOMING)
2012 Taikang Space, Beijing, China
2011 "LOOK INTO THE MIRROR", CANVAS INTERNATIONAL ART, AMSTERDAM
2010 "Self Portrait", C-Space, Beijing, China
2012 "Specificity", Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
2012 SCOPE Basel 2012, Canvas International Art, Basel, Switzerland
2011 Beautiful Loser", Galerie Goldener Engl, Hall, Austria
2011 "Foundation 10 years", CAFA Art Museum, Beijing ,China
2010 "A Long Journey", CAFA Graduation Works Exhibition, Beijing, China
2009 "CAFA students in school excellent works exhibition", Beijing, China
2007 "CAFA students in school excellent works exhibition", Beijing, China