Apollo and Mustard Seed Garden - Zhang Hui Solo Exhibition
2021.12.18 - 2022.02.13
Artists: Zhang Hui

Apollo and Mustard Seed Garden

Bao Dong


Zhang Hui's paintings always give a sense of radiance, unlike the external style that highlights outdoor sketches or compelling light and shade. Zhang Hui does not try to represent the light in nature; his pictures seem to be illuminated uniformly. He hardly paints shadows but applies the method to chiaroscuro to highlight the shapes on the details. Notably, in his landscape subjects, this approach is similar to traditional Chinese landscape painting, which does not offer a specific perspective of a moment and a place. The painter seems to be an abstract viewer, looking down from afar at the infinite world in a metaphysical gaze.


Thus, his landscapes, cities or mountains, do not offer one the urge to be in them, as everything has been translated into light and elegant structures, colors, and brushstrokes. This immateriality is also reflected in other subjects; for instance, the trees, fruits, and flowers in his paintings are removed from the environment. Their origins are hidden like still life. Likewise, his figures lack erotic quality; although their gender may be apparent, they are not sexy. He paints women, men, and a universal look of human beings.


In other words, Zhang Hui paints the state of things as they should be, not as they happen to be. In this sense, he is a classical observer rather than a witness in the "modern" context. Zhang Hui observes and paints the world into the idealistic and illusory imagery in his mind. First of all, he likes to use bright colors, pure colors, and complementary colors to stimulate a sense of light between colors and intentionally uses fluorescent colors to emphasize the unique atmosphere of this era. Secondly, he adopts straightforward symbols, such as the giant sun or rainbow, which are often affixed to the picture like totems, emanating a robust symbolic force.


Most importantly, Zhang Hui’s paintings bring forth a way of looking, who pictorial world presents an unobstructed brightness and dreaminess, which seems to come from the painter's gaze, that has illuminated the object it perceives and granted a form of expression while withholding on this dreamy appearance. In this sense, Zhang Hui's way of looking contains an Apollonian gaze.

In Nietzsche's discourse, Apollo "is fundamentally the 'illuminator,' the god of light, who also rules over the beautiful appearance of the inner fantasies." As the god of fine art, Apollo aestheticizes the phenomenon of world order "and it is by this that life becomes possible and worth living."[1] Zhang Hui's relationship with the world in his paintings is precisely a moderate and aesthetic one, as he constructs the specific and chaotic appearances into a calm order, bringing us a "metaphysical comfort."


Zhang Hui's sense of order is reflected in the form of his painting and his way of working, with regards to how he classifies and "repeats" his subject matters. Zhang Hui's painting subjects can be roughly divided into landscapes, nudes, and still-lifes based on the customary division of courses in the art academy. On the one hand, he feels that "painting anything is the same." On the other hand, he maintains the simplicity and stability of the subjects themselves. In this sense, Zhang Hui's way of working is like a traditional Chinese painter who also studies landscapes, figures, birds, etc. Based on these, he has built a formula that is repeatedly pushed forward and interpreted, which almost constitutes a personal "Mustard Seed Garden."



[1] Frederic Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Yang Hengda, Nanjing Yilin Publication, 2007.