Zhang Xiaogang Jump No. 1 (2018) by Zhang Xiaogang © Zhang Xiaogang. Image courtesy of Pace

Zhang Xiaogang reflects on more disquieting memories

The Chinese artist draws on his personal recollections in a new exhibition of emotionally charged pictures

The Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang knows the difficulties a painter faces, when compared with other types of artists.

“If I were a conceptual or installation artist, I would think about exactly how my next piece of work would turn out,” he said in a recent interview. “But as a painter, if I worked tirelessly for a year and advanced just one centimetre, I would feel this was an enormous triumph.”

Zhang was born in 1958, grew up during the Cultural Revolution – when his parents were subjected to three years of government ‘re-education’ - and came of age in the latter part of the 20th century, a time when the People’s Republic of China was finding a new place, after the fall of the USSR, in a more open, commercially driven world.

That’s a lot for anyone to deal with. As our book Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories explains, in his paintings “Memory serves as an analogue for history, and examining history, like meditating on the structure of memory, is another of his persistent themes.”


Bloodline - Big Family No 3 (1995) by Zhang Xiaogang
Bloodline - Big Family No 3 (1995) by Zhang Xiaogang

He’s best known for his Big Family paintings, in which a small, nuclear family, stare out, impassively expressing “social pressures to fit in – whether into the conventions of studio photography or, metaphorically, into the collective norms – produced ‘great emotional turbulence’.”

Zhang Xiaogang has apparently built on this series for his new show opening at Pace on 7 September in New York. So far, Pace has released a single image, Jump No1, which shows an unfamiliar figure – a single girl. However, she’s still caught in a grey, nostalgic wash; and this, and the other works on show, “stem from his individual experience and recollections,” says Pace, “utilizing narrative scenes and portraits to express his own personal history, story, and emotional sensibility, in a manner that blends memory and imagination.” 

For more on this fascinating Chinese artist, order a copy of Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories here; for more on his place within the Chinese tradition, get The Chinese Art Book.