Zhang Jie's art works are both sensitive and bold. In her series of self-portraits, she does not analyze and record every cell and detail of herself like a scientist would. Instead, she uses her canvas to show the viewer a rich expanse beyond the static planes of oil paintings. Zhang Jie's art is a doctrine; the raw emotions in her works are almost infectious. As we gaze upon her paintings, the thoughts and feelings of each character seem to extend to us, pounding lightly upon our hearts. But Zhang Jie said, "Feelings are unstable things, changing as and when they want." Hence, she tries to go deeper into her characters' psyche rather than simply portraying the emotions running through them at that moment. "Perhaps their mental state may be harder to define and explain," she claims. As an artist she wants to delve deeper into their souls, analyzing the girls from their fundamentals and their core. In her most expressive piece, titled "Adherence," the girl in her painting has a scar on the left of her chest, as if she had been stabbed in the heart. And yet, her expression remains stoic, giving the viewer the impression that she had already seen through and come to terms with this world.
Colors play a very important role in Zhang Jie's paintings. Her trademarks include bold, erratic lines, and seemingly erroneous combinations of blues, purples and reds to cast a gloomy and melancholic feeling on her pieces. Part of a new series of paintings make use of dark reds on the people's bodies, resembling blood and violence, which heightens the impact her artwork has on the viewer. "I've always been trying to find colors that can express the way I feel. I am quite strict when it comes to colors, because they don't just infuse my characters with a personality, but they also communicate to the viewers the mental state of my characters. They give my works a sort of calmness, thoughtfulness, content and readability." Zhang Jie likes to use the darker colors as the base for the bodies and for the backgrounds, as well as to highlight certain parts of her paintings. For example, pale pink flowers on dark backgrounds will grab our attention immediately. Plus, the colors that Zhang Jie use on details are also worth analyzing. She paints people's eyes blue, which is a color that is more piercing than the brown eyes Chinese people are born with. She also uses a brighter red for the lips and the girl's long nails which brightens up the paintings and enhances the femininity of her characters. Her special focus on these body parts are worth a thought, because to everyone, the hand isn't just for us to do things that other animals cannot, but also allows us to feel and interact with the outside world; we use our mouths to talk, to dispel the loneliness in our hearts. Hands and lips are used to embrace others, to touch them and kiss them. This explains why in Zhang Jie's works, she uses particular colors to highlight these special body parts.
After Zhang Jie obtained her Masters Degree from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, her paintings have been constantly transforming. Now, the issues she deals with are much more captivating, and her brush strokes have gotten heavier, sharper and brighter as well. She explains,"I'm still of the view that paintings should be painted after all. Brushstrokes not only help you create skin texture and gives your work a story, it also completes the painting in every sense. I found that the fundamentals of painting, like form, colors and brushes, possess a lot of power and they explain a lot of things."
Another thing we cannot help but notice is the details in the paintings that are worth some serious thought. For example, the girls' eyes are abnormally huge, each taking up half the width of their faces. Zhang Jie explains that this came about subconsciously due to her special focus on their eyes. Their irises are very detailed and smooth, forming a stark contrast to the loose, free strokes she uses to paint their bodies. The eyes and irises are also disproportionately large, made even more prominent by the girls' pale skin, which makes their gaze seem a little grim. Upon careful examination, you can't help but be mesmerized by these girls. "A single look is worth more than a thousand words." In many contemporary Chinese art works, the eyes are often blurry, but Zhang Jie chooses to emphasize them instead. She believes that eyes are the windows to one's soul, and hence you should be able to see into them clearly like a lake. They are meant to be expressive, the voice of a person's heart. "Only eyes can give a person the space to imagine, doubt and guess." Indeed, eyes are important tools for us to experience this world, because they are often the first and the most impactful amongst our sensory organs. Through those clear, pale blue eyes in the paintings, we can almost see ourselves staring sadly back at us.
In some artworks, the people in the paintings look directly at the viewer, they look focused and even rebellious. This sort of gaze is like a silent confession - perhaps she wants to tell us that she knows we are staring at her. Or maybe, she's like an actress performing before cameras trained upon her. In other works, they stare at a corner just outside the canvas. Some of them look heartbreakingly helpless, deep in their thoughts and some look so lonely that they seem to bear a grudge against everything.
Another detail lies in the flowers that Zhang Jie adds to some of her works (sometimes it's just a simple petal.) Flowers, exquisite but transient, are often used to represent females. In one painting, the girl brings a handful of petals to her face, hiding her nose, mouth and chin from view. Some of the blood-red petals tumble from her hands between her fingers, and her bright blue eyes seem fixed upon the viewer. "Flowers, or petals, hint at sex or femininity," Zhang Jie explains. The rose in her painting is held in the mouth of a woman lying upon the ground, and in another painting titled "The Beauty Trap," they're scattered about a girl. Even though they are still blooming, it's an inevitably tragic sort of beauty; the only peach blossom that appears is the brightest and softest painting in the collection, with a single stalk of peach blossom extending out like an ancient Chinese ink painting. Petals from the ends fall gently on the table while a girl rests her arms against the table, with a wistful expression and remaining deep in thought. The use of flowers not only enhances the painting, but also adds a gentleness and passion to the artwork - adding a bittersweet, poetic touch as one is reminded of the Chinese saying, "flowers fall as they will."
From the construction of the characters and their actions, Zhang Jie's new works appear even more daring and full of tension. Some of the works are filled with raw emotions, with the characters in provocative poses; in others, the girls appear pure and innocent instead, deep in their thoughts and desires. Some of the people portrayed appear casual and relaxed, but an aura of mystery surrounds them nonetheless. Despite revealing more intimate areas of the body in her new works, Zhang Jie uses this nakedness to break out from the constraints of society, showing how fragile and scarred her characters are, but also how they are able to remain calm in the face of violence. She does not pursue perfection in painting these people, but what is natural instead.This gives the viewer an oddly intimate feeling, as if they are looking upon a secret that they are not supposed to see. According to Zhang Jie's explanation, this is actually how "women, using their bodies or themselves, make silent protests against this cruel, complicated, fast-paced and dangerous world."
"These girls are wistful, sensitive, weak, narcissistic, suspicious and lonely, yet they crave another lease of life, inexplicably challenging the troubled outside world, closing themselves off in self-praise and self-assurance." Indeed, when the viewer first encounters her works, they will be immediately reeled in by the richness of the emotions they depict. After seeing her exhibition, the strangeness and intimacy of it all feels as if everyone will find something within these pieces that resonates with themselves. The paintings become a medium for Zhang Jie to express herself, to share with the world what it feels to be like her. This becomes her reason for working relentlessly using different styles and angles to explore and present to us the mystical, fantasy-like realm of the human mind.
Kai Qin Lin
"Vision, Tales of Xindu" Chengdu Youth Contemporary Artists Exhibition (Xindu Art Museum, Chengdu, China)
Duet (Yuao International Art Centre, Chongqing, China) Suzhou Art Gallery Annual Contemporary Art Exhibition (Suzhou Art Gallery, Suzhou, China)
"Her Vision"(Soemo Fine Art Gallery 798, Beijing, China) Wang Xiao Jian Contemporary Art Collection Exhibition (MOON ART, Chongqing, China)
"Reckless Brush Strokes" (White Space Gallery, Beijing, China)
"My Eye's Ballad" Zhang Jie and Hu Ke Collaborative Exhibition (Anni Art Gallery, Beijing, China)
Huang Jia Ping Contemporary Artist of the Year Nomination (501 Contemporary Art Gallery, Chongqing, China)
"Shenzhen Art Exhibition" 3rd Contemporary Art Fair - Annual Southern China Art Collection Exhibition (Shenzhen 22 Art District, GeFeng Art Center, China)
China Art Prize for Emerging Chinese Contemporary Artists - A retrospective exhibition (Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art)
"To Each his Own Words" (first-ever) Western China Contemporary Art (Exchange) Exhibition (Chang'an Museum of Contemporary Art, Chongqing, China)
Chongqing Huang Jia PingInternational Art Fair "China: Chongqing's Oasis" Contemporary Art Exhibition (Chongqing, China)
"Confessions" Zhang Jie Solo Exhibition (Art Scene China, Shanghai)
108 Spring Art Salotto (Chongqing,China)
Art Cologne International Art Fair (Cologne, Germany)
Creativity and Virtue (China ArtScene, Shanghai)
ArtMania - Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition (China Art Scene, Shanghai)