‘Although I operate within the realm of form, my idea is to go beyond the limitations set by form and break free.’
Born 1954, Beijing. Lives and works in Beijing.
Zhu Jinshi began to paint when he worked in a factory during the Cultural Reovolution. In the late 1970s he was a member of the avant-garde ‘Stars’ group. Then he spent more than a decade living in Berlin, an experience that left permanent marks on his work. Although his oeuvre is dizzyingly diverse—from photography and video, to painting, installations and performance art—one of his most consistent themes is the interaction between East and West. Zhu Jinshi’s abstract paintings, using oil colours applied so thickly they slide off the canvas, owe much to German Expressionism, but in their emphasis on speed and spontaneity, they also echo xie yi ink-and-brush paintings. The lumps and slabs of paint—as much as 30 kilograms per square metre—make these works almost sculptural, an effect the artist often underscores by exhibiting alongside them piles of fallen paint and his tools: not brushes but shovels and wok spatulas. Diary 25.12.2006 (2006) was painted after a conference of Chinese artists and critics. Zhu Jinshi left a corner of the canvas blank for a scrawled memo: “Resolution of meeting: Art is important, but China is more important!” Judith Said the Painting Must Stop (2007) was named when the owner of the White Rabbit Collection walked in on the artist at work and blurted out: “That’s enough! You don’t need any more paint!” That is the kind of reaction Zhu Jinshi hopes for. “Thickness … visually guides you to change your worldview,” he says. “It can be used as a point of breakthrough.”
Since 1988 Zhu Jinshi has created a series of immersive installations made of xuan (rice) paper, bamboo and thread. For The Ship of Time (2017—18) he used 14,000 sheets of rice paper, 1,800 pieces of fine bamboo, and 2,000 cotton threads seven meters long. His team travelled to ancient villages on Yellow Mountain to develop fireproof rice paper and choose bamboo, before spending several months in the studio shaping the rice paper, baking the bamboo straight, making holes, and cutting three-meter sections. Like a tunnel into a parallel universe it is both strong and fragile, evoking the ancient Chinese history of paper and calligraphy as well as contemporary references to the urban built environment.