Under The Microscope: Zhuang Hong Yi
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Under The Microscope: Zhuang Hong Yi

Zhuang Hong Yi

In the first of an in-depth series looking at Unit London artists, we chart the course of the inimitable Zhuang Hong Yi; from his debut solo show at the gallery, to the stunning works he is producing today, we trace the progression in both his career and his work, trying to put our finger on the golden thread that runs through everything he has achieved.

Born in 1962 in Sichuan Province, China, Zhuang Hong Yi now lives and works between The Netherlands & Beijing. One of China’s most influential artists, his work is characterised by a daringly-bold yet sophisticated colour palette, repetitive and precise floral motifs reflect his Chinese background while integrating a Western allure. Using the traditional Chinese material of rice paper, the works represent Chinese aesthetics, meditations on colour, nature and form, whilst the emphasis on technique and uniformity and the focus on his handling of material are all lessons adopted from the Sichuan College of Fine Arts, where he first studied.

Embracing his present without losing his past, Hong Yi's work takes on a distinctly individual feel: engaging his own personal struggles in visual form, vacillating between phases of controlled planning, emotional gesture and meticulous editing. Zhuang Hong Yi has a broad international following, spanning Europe and Asia. His floral works are included in various private and museum collections including the Museum of Sichuan Fine Art in China and the Groninger and Stadsmuseum Zoetermeer in the Netherlands.

Raw - 2015

RAW was Zhuang Hong Yi’s debut solo show at Unit London, as well as the inaugural show at our previous space in Soho. Although, at this stage, Zhuang had been exhibiting for almost ten years, this was his first exhibition in the UK - representing a big shift in status for both the artist and the gallery, RAW was the perfect show to launch the new era.

“We have been aware of Zhuang’s work for a long time. It has this sheer rawness and simplicity that’s really quite amazing. The works creep the line between painting and sculpture, they’re these incredibly tactile hybrids; you can see how he has hand-manipulated each petal of rice paper; you can see the fingerprints in the acrylic, and the smears of colour where he has slashed his hand across the canvas. What is so fascinating about his work is that there are strong allusions to Western impressionism, and yet there is an aesthetic feel to the work which is distinctly Eastern.” Jonny Burt, Unit London co-director, 2015

“We have been aware of Zhuang’s work for a long time. It has this sheer rawness and simplicity that’s really quite amazing. The works creep the line between painting and sculpture, they’re these incredibly tactile hybrids; you can see how he has hand-manipulated each petal of rice paper; you can see the fingerprints in the acrylic, and the smears of colour where he has slashed his hand across the canvas. What is so fascinating about his work is that there are strong allusions to Western impressionism, and yet there is an aesthetic feel to the work which is distinctly Eastern.” Jonny Burt, Unit London co-director, 2015

Raw - 2015

RAW was Zhuang Hong Yi’s debut solo show at Unit London, as well as the inaugural show at our previous space in Soho. Although, at this stage, Zhuang had been exhibiting for almost ten years, this was his first exhibition in the UK - representing a big shift in status for both the artist and the gallery, RAW was the perfect show to launch the new era.

Raw - Install

Raw, Private View

Raw II - 2017

Following on from the success of RAW, Zhuang Hong Yi returned to Unit London two years later with RAW II, a powerful body of work that further demonstrated the artist's boundless affinity with nature and the natural environment. Zhuang Hong Yi’s 2017 exhibition for Unit London included works that heralded a fork in Hong Yi’s practice: there began to be a point of divergence, where works became either ‘flowerbed’ works or rather more traditional hybrid paintings.

Hong Yi’s flowerbed series was painstakingly produced with individually folded origami rice-paper flowers covered in layers of sprayed pigments and acrylic. From a distance the colours shimmer iridescently and, as the observer moves across the work, these colours shift and change, transforming the image. From a closer vantage point, the meticulously twisted paper flowers and layers of paint take centre stage. The more traditional works stray further into the realm of action painting: they are emotive bursts of shape and colour, paint is poured and flung onto a canvas textured with layers of flowers.

Hong Yi’s flowerbed series was painstakingly produced with individually folded origami rice-paper flowers covered in layers of sprayed pigments and acrylic. From a distance the colours shimmer iridescently and, as the observer moves across the work, these colours shift and change, transforming the image. From a closer vantage point, the meticulously twisted paper flowers and layers of paint take centre stage. The more traditional works stray further into the realm of action painting: they are emotive bursts of shape and colour, paint is poured and flung onto a canvas textured with layers of flowers.

Raw II - 2017

Following on from the success of RAW, Zhuang Hong Yi returned to Unit London two years later with RAW II, a powerful body of work that further demonstrated the artist's boundless affinity with nature and the natural environment. Zhuang Hong Yi’s 2017 exhibition for Unit London included works that heralded a fork in Hong Yi’s practice: there began to be a point of divergence, where works became either ‘flowerbed’ works or rather more traditional hybrid paintings.

RAW II - Video

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Pause

RAW II - Studio Visit

RAW II - Install

RAW II - Private View

EARTH - 2019

Last April, Zhuang Hong Yi presented EARTH, a solo exhibition at Unit London’s new space in Hanover Square. In these landscapes, Zhuang adopted a more traditional painterly approach, depicting vibrant vistas through a brilliant combination of gestural impasto and folded rice paper. Memory, energy and nature had always been themes in Zhuang's artwork, here they took centre stage. In EARTH, Zhuang’s varying colours, dimensions and subjects were united in their undulating beauty, sophistication and craftsmanship.

"Over the last three years I have looked to the sunsets, I have gone to different countries to see the real landscapes, the light and the movement. I give the energy to the painting, and the painting reacts by giving me new energy and inspiration." Zhuang Hong Yi, 2019

"Over the last three years I have looked to the sunsets, I have gone to different countries to see the real landscapes, the light and the movement. I give the energy to the painting, and the painting reacts by giving me new energy and inspiration." Zhuang Hong Yi, 2019

EARTH - 2019

Last April, Zhuang Hong Yi presented EARTH, a solo exhibition at Unit London’s new space in Hanover Square. In these landscapes, Zhuang adopted a more traditional painterly approach, depicting vibrant vistas through a brilliant combination of gestural impasto and folded rice paper. Memory, energy and nature had always been themes in Zhuang's artwork, here they took centre stage. In EARTH, Zhuang’s varying colours, dimensions and subjects were united in their undulating beauty, sophistication and craftsmanship.

EARTH - Video

Play
Pause

EARTH - Studio Visit

EARTH - Install

EARTH - Private View

NOW

Since RAW opened in 2015, Zhuang’s practice has come a long way. His work is in a constant state of evolution, responding to both his feelings and the time in which they’re based. Regarding his now signature flowerbeds, Zhuang constantly aspires to vary his experimentation with colour combinations, creating many different patterns over the last two years. 

The works in RAW and RAW II had rather simple simple structures and colour combinations. Although Zhuang is not losing touch with this refined foundation, his work now explores more complex configurations of colour. For example: the flowers on B19-E097 are the result of Zhuang exploring new patterns and visual structures through the pointed arrangement and manipulation of paper flowers, the inspiration for which came when snorkeling amongst the coral, off the coast of South East Asia. 

Scroll down to see some of Zhuang’s new works, the result of a magnificent artistic journey that is not yet complete…

 

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