A Flower Blossoms in the Wild as It Waits for Full Bloom:
Liu Zheng, for the Love of Painting
Michelle Shao
A song goes like this: "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" A similar question is: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him an artist? Liu Zheng gives a typical oriental answer: Walk a thousand miles and read a million books, experience a cycle of history. This answer gives him an oriental world view and a whole set of artistic philosophy. Liu Zheng inherited the oriental cultural tradition and memories. He is an artist of the East.
Liu Zheng wanted to become an artist as a boy. He used to live near Beijing Zoo before eight years old. The young boy would sneak into the Zoo after school and draw sketches. His favorite models were elephant and giraffe, which were big enough for him to observe and slow enough for him to draw. He moved to Chaoyang District at nine years old. One year later, he was lucky enough to be among the chosen few to be enrolled to the middle school attached to the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute. The entrance-exam was tough and only a few candidates passed. Then began his long partnership with foreign languages. He majored in Spanish. From grade four to senior high school graduation, he was prematurely educated in the professional system. At that time, Liu Zheng did not like foreign languages at all. All his attention was on drawing. He drew on every spare space in his textbooks and notebooks. All that time, Liu Zheng never ceased to draw or train his artistic skills. He believed in his own artistic intuition. His dream was to enter Central Academy of Fine Arts upon high school graduation but missed the opportunity again. He was enrolled to the foreign language university from which he had been trying to escape and began to study French.
Upon college graduation, Liu Zheng was hired by MOFCOM to work in Economic and Commercial Counselor's Office at Chinese Embassy in Rwanda. He fell in love with the land of Africa once he set foot upon it. In the ensuing decade, he took time to travel in a couple of dozen African countries. His life was closely intertwined with Africa. He took many pictures, wrote diaries and drew sketches. He perceived and experienced the alien culture of Africa as an artist.
Shocked by the SARS outbreak in 2003, Liu Zheng began to reflect upon the ultimate meaning of life. In that context, he was awed by a sense of fear; not his fear of sudden death, but the fear that he had not attempted to realize his dream and death may suddenly be upon him. From that moment, Liu Zheng made a decision to free himself from his business life and concentrate on becoming a professional artist.
He searched time and space for this goal. He stopped school, had no interest in government work and got rid of his business enterprise. He only wanted to become a professional artist. After so many years and such long journey, he found that art is most important and all other motives appear insignificant. His life is such a legend! Can we call him the Paul Gauguin in China?
His choice is more confidence than courage. Personal growth is achieved through extension and enrichment. Such fosters a unique temperament in an artist.
Liu Zheng did not go through formal training in any fine art academy. Would you still question him after reading his life story? Do all writers need to be graduates from department of Chinese language in a university? Definitely not. Liu Zheng has been painting for three decades. The environment led and guided his artistic endowment to his preset direction. His paintings are spontaneous, coming not out of ignorant impulse, or hasty rush, but out of his observance on the surroundings as an integrated artistic entity. In this sense, he has been a professional artist all along. Like all great artists in history, he is inspired by the same God's creation and breathes the same air - the air of courage, innovation, enthusiasm and perseverance.
A flower blossoms in the wild as it waits for full bloom. Natural beauty will never be suffocated.
I asked Liu Zheng a few questions. His answers reflect his understanding of art:
1. What do you think is the fundamental task of painting? To express mine mind through the language of painting.
2. What motivates your painting? To communicate my world view and values through images and symbols.
3. What is your way of artistic creation? A realistic and contemporary figurative approach.
4. What is your style? Conceptual painting.
Education, experience, temperament and culture give his paintings depth. His works are full of impulses and dynamism. Their formation and composition satisfy modern artistic theories, which require injecting new life with forms and artistic abstraction. The centerpiece of his works is himself and glass. Through the relationship between the two, he integrates the objective, means and images of his painting and expresses his culture and confidence. Liu Zheng uses glass to structure the space and build a shell to partition space. In his works, glass constantly blocks him, separates him from external world, extends outside of the paintings and twists and winds in our minds. We feel as if our hearts have been cut off by glass and stay with Liu Zheng. Such spatial vibrancy gives his works strong modernism and independence. Art is not complete without modernism, and culture will age and wither without independence.
Glass is a perilous polyhedron. Its translucency indicates the existence of its geometric surfaces, which imply the complexity of emotions and reveal the meaning of "whole" through "parts".
Personality, experience, quality and reflection give his works honesty and dignity. His feelings are true. He opens himself up with his brush and reveals his mind to the audience. His works are close to the very core of mind - the most human, natural and real state of mind.
Opposition of desires, brittleness of time, inevitable fragility of youth, absence of communication, segregation of hearts and minds, dilemma and rapture# His stories, concerns, perseverance, escalating emotions - all secretly and exquisitely woven in his works - are thunder in a clear sky. His grasp of the true nature of daily life, his understanding of minute mundane emotions, and his constant pursuit of internal dignity give his work mind-boggling power over our feelings. The audience is put into transient contemplation before his works. We feel like his accomplices, who understand exactly what he means. Nothing is more comforting to an artist than having his audience resonate with him.

His works are clear and simple, gentle and wild.
He uses shades to the extreme: simplicity, elegance, dynamism, aggressiveness, accuracy, tempo, grace, education, civility, sentiment. Shades are undertone unique to Liu Zheng - serenity in the journey home. The traveler's sight turned inside himself on the journey. His paintings are the diaries of his mind. Same person, but different times, locations, perspectives, understandings, experience, and expressions.
His works are sentimental and attentive. He recollects our inward senses, like a thin ray of winter sun with diluted warmth. We try to dress in glass and transform to chameleons to keep off the cold. We relax in a whirlpool of warm current and feel attracted to things under the sun. Such attentiveness is solemn.
I have a piece of advice for Liu Zheng. I am not telling him to polish his skills, e.g. to increase the quality of glass. For a real artist, skill is never the issue. My advice for him is to prevent himself from being trapped by established patterns. An artist must remain vigilant when his painting flows particularly naturally. Perhaps it is time to deny such ease and seek breakthrough. Grounded in his experience and competency, Liu Zheng is bound to create better works.
I am bound to believe in him, too.
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