Zhou Fan: Phobia
In recent years, primarily since 2012 when he decided to make landscape his focus, Shanghai-based artist Zhou Fan has transformed his painting into a distinctive, compelling form of personal expression. It should not be imagined that in choosing the theme of landscape, he was returning to a familiar topic for artists, or that in so doing he was using anything like conventional form. Landscape is, in Zhou Fan’s working vocabulary, a metaphysical concept; a visual metaphor for a very human experience of space, and for an idea of nature as dense and untamed, where the contradictions between natural growth and manmade urban fields are wielded as much a psychological language as a visual one.
The initial response to an encounter with Zhou Fan’s intricate compositions is one of wonder. The colours are bright, pure, and perfectly offset to attain maximum intensity. The paintings can be large (some up to three meters long) or small (a little less than A3 size), but are each extraordinarily detailed. The initial series of large format compositions from 2012 were constructed entirely by lines that delineate forms, side-by-side, always overlapping, in which the web of the structural components that meet in these paintings is so fine that they almost seem to have been plotted by machine. The first landscape compositions also began from the idea of taking a journey, literally and physically through the painting. This can be understood as the artist leading the viewer into his world, where specifically this might be through a mountain valley, along a road that vanishes into the depths of the picture plane. The point is one of never arriving at a clear destination; the destination is always infinity on the horizon.
This was still a world of acrylic on canvas. The transformational shift really began in 2014 with a move away from canvas onto paper. It may seem like an inconsequential difference but it is one that finds full expression in the encounter between paper, as a soluble substance, with any liquid material. Zhou Fan’s style of painting may not rely upon thick layers of paint to sit up on the surface, or the natural dissemination of pigment across watery pools washed or splashed over the surface and which sink in, are absorbed, and become part of the paper’s substance. But the fragility of lines, dots, brush marks is given greater tension by the equal fragility of even the strongest paper.
The paintings on display in “Phobia” represent Zhou Fan’s reflection on the fears that stalk daily life today; from global warming to contagious disease, from the invasion of privacy to the total destruction of all we know under the threat of a nuclear explosion. But for all the dark Nietzschean philosophy that underscores his aesthetic concept, Zhou Fan paintings inject a delightful psychedelic brilliance to our perception of contemporary reality; landscapes in which you can wander and linger, and imagine a better world.
About the Artist
Zhou Fan was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi province in 1983. He graduated from the Fine Art College of Shanxi University in 2006 with a BA in graphic arts and has worked as an independent artist since. Zhou Fan currently lives and works in Shanghai.
We would like to thank Art Labor, Shanghai, for its support of this project.