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Zhang Yajie


In the Chinese art scene of the early 1990s a group of artists known as the "New Generation", of whom Zhang Yajie was one of the leading innovators, were writing a new chapter in art history. In the characters and scenes he captured in the streets and alleys and in his immediate environment, the passive demeanor of his characters in their chaotic settings well encapsulated the atmosphere of dramatic change at that time. The appearance of the characters and the way they are crammed into the space in each scene reveal how the core characteristic of Zhang Yajie's work is how his brushstrokes dynamically blend graffiti and realistic modeling, revealing a vulnerable but consummate sense of candor in dealing with the picture on the canvas. Another series of black and white portraits uses the exaggerated and distorted forms like those created by the lens of the close-up photographer, and the facial expressions and demeanor of his characters reveal a heightened sense of wonder, thereby creating a portrayal of the souls remaining of people caught in those unique times.

After returning to China following time spent travelling in Japan and the United States, Zhang Yajie’s work developed and innovated in these two different directions. His portrait series took on richer color, revealing more of his subjects’ emotional character and destiny; the focus of the paintings in his quotidian scenes gradually began to gravitate towards ordinary indoor and outdoor scenes from a fading era or once familiar objects like swimming pools or electric sockets that were becoming unfamiliar. After 2009, Zhang Yajie developed a technique of applying thin strokes with his brush; these comprised dots or short strokes with which he was able to depict everyday details and moments of silence vividly, accurately, and in an unadorned way. The works of this period shows the artist's accumulation of painting experience and his natural yet precise control over technique, marking the further maturity of Zhang Yajie. The attributes and states of the objects he depicts are ordinary and simple, but through their immersion in the existence and experience of the artist and their transformation by the artist onto the canvas they reveal their quotidian positioning and are shown to be pristine and unpretentious. This is not at all the application of an “artistic process” to deal with the quotidian, but an attempt to discover the magic within the mundane, and to attain a feeling for life and time developed over a long period by the artist as he expresses his concern for what is seemingly commonplace.

The artist subsequently applied his dots and strokes with a sense of freedom and ease in keeping with his new-found animated spirit. In several works of 2013 depicting suburban buildings and a corner of his studio, the scattering of mottled spots pervades the scenes, and it is distributed across almost the entirety of the works. These spots do not follow conventional spatial perspective or follow the rules governing the attributes of the depicted objects, but instead provide a universal coverage of scenes as though they have been visually scanned. The scars of time on man-made artifacts and artificial environments are intensified by the play of nature and are placed in a living intermediate stage between the artifice of man and nature; his mottled traces represent both rough and fresh reality as well as the artist’s inner mind revealed by his everyday experience. In these works there are sections in which color of high purity is used and the pulsation of these colored spots and patches elevates the rising emotional tone of the works, but this sentiment is never forced or imposed on specific objects. They instead retain and hold the generative stage they have attained. Using the same brush technique of applying fine sketching, the combined effect of the texture of the white canvas and the intense dark strokes produces a strong sense of movement, and the light dots effect a subtle and gentle change in tone. These features also reflect to differing degrees the reflection of mountains in water on the shore to be found in landscape works.

Zhang Yajie’s works explore the quotidian states that closely and constantly relate to the attributes and states of people and things. The retrieval of these attributes and states might seem trivial and simple in Zhang’s works, but they play more of a role in serving the artist’s memory of time and attitudes to life. The highly accomplished shaping and refinement of color concealed within the subtle expression of his works are enhanced by the precise maturity that reveals no trace of the accurate and technical dexterity developed through a lifetime of rich and deep experience. Those seemingly random colors and brush strokes that seem to obey no rules construct a world faithful to the artist's heart. The “art” in Zhang Yajie’s works lies in the artist’s deliberate experience of life and attitudes to the world and his unceasing experiments in expressing that experience.

Zhang Li, March 2014

1963      Born in Jinan

1989      Graduated from the Department of Printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts


Solo Exhibitions



Creative Force by Zhang Yajie, Red Gate Gallery


Not Black – Not White, Red Gate Gallery


Zhang Yajie, Red Gate Gallery


Group Exhibitions



Graphology of Painting, Museum of contemporary Art, Beijing


The Same, New Works, 01 Gallery, Beijing




Regeneration, Contemporary Chinese Art from China and the US, 

Bucknell University, Brown University, Otis College of Art and Design,

University of Virginia Art Museum and so on


Contemporary Chinese Painting Exhibition, Pittura Museum, Italy


Portraits, Figures, Couples and Groups, Modern Chinese Art Foundation



Contemporary Chinese Art, Switzerland


Urban Yearnings – Portraits of Contemporary China, Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco


Ouh La La Kitsch, TEDA Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin







In the City – City Individuality During the Opening Up, Panorama Gallery, Beijing

Through the Red Gate Anniversary Exhibition, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

Redwood City International Arts of China, Hong Kong, US

China Avantgarde, Berlin

First 1990s Biennial Art Fair, Guangzhou


10 am - 6 pm, Tuesday - Sunday
798 Art District,
No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Road,
Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Beijing International Post Office
Box No. 9039,
Beijing, China 100600
(+86 10) 5762 3032
(+86) 137 0107 8721
[email protected]
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