Xi Zhang is an exceptional painter and perhaps one of the most credible and pure emerging artists of his generation. Plus Gallery announces “Xi Zhang – Paintings 2014-2016,” the third compilation to give audiences an in-depth view into his artwork and career development. Dream Dusts (2011) brought together Zhang’s earliest bodies of work, beginning with his breakthrough series “12921” and leading up through “Awaking Dreams of Spring,” first presented at Plus Gallery in Denver, Colorado in 2010. The second publication, 21st Century DNA (2013) accompanied Zhang’s major solo exhibition hosted by Plus Gallery in conjunction with the City of Denver, in recognition of Zhang’s selection by Denver’s Biennial of the Americas in 2012 as an ambassador for URRA’s International artist residency program in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Zhang had received permanent resident status within the United States just months prior, as an “Artist of extraordinary ability.”

Of the twelve different bodies of work he has developed to date, Zhang has stated “Each have their own unique aesthetic, though some series maintain multiple aesthetics. In each I strive to depict a landscape of an uncertain living environment: west versus east, old versus new, local versus global, physical versus virtual, low art versus high art. Beyond my often psychedelic coding is a path that challenges the viewer to consider each element separately, deconstructing them until they no longer carry their original tags.

In 2013 Zhang temporarily moved from Denver, Colorado, a community that had passionately embraced him, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With few distractions he began to assemble the new and extensive body of work Metallic Leaf Garden, a related series Golden Compass and a propulsive stream of tests dubbed Mr. Vincent Munch. Zhang commented recently that everything he has created prior to Metallic Leaf Garden has been a search for the right tools, content, aesthetic, and technique in order to commence mlg. This long-range view for such a young artist is a strong sign towards the depth of his practice, lending gravity to his growing collector base and solid support amongst a wide range of Contemporary curators.

Since his youth and upbringing in Kaifeng, China, Xi Zhang has always carried a deeply embedded family history within art in parallel with his innate talent. His previous works have been considered beautiful, highly detailed, outlandishly experimental, gutsy, at times wildly humorous and almost always enormously compelling. But one can immediately sense that zhang has discovered his true voice within the works put forth to date in MLG, as well as their companions in Golden Compass. The paintings speak towards a possible narrative, but they are certainly of a more expansive mindframe, connecting with humanity and expression in broad, masterful ways that interweave multiple platforms within our greater creative spheres. Zhang’s painterly skills and explosive use of color are on full display, linking the real with the dream-state, the abstract with impressionism, Van Gogh with Munch, yin with yang; essentially an exploratory tour-de-force grounded in philosophical depth.

Metallic Leaf Garden currently breaks down into three series, with the third not currently complete, and the possibility for expansion into a fourth. The paintings, or “episodes” as Zhang classifies them, related to the relationship between the mind and physical space, each specific series dealing with different intensities that reshape their character’s minds and environments. Zhang considers his luminous “GAIMS01E04 – The Siren Alley” from Birth of a Million Tear Drops to be the official starting point for MLG. Twenty four episodes follow that comprise the first series, depicting characters whose surroundings are only changed in subtle degrees. Zhang explores each stage in simple terms of color, paint and technique in order to convey the psychology each setting relates to.

The five brief yet explosive episodes in series two depict a heightened surrealism, adding tremendous gravity and coming closer for zhang to a purposeful vehicle in which to convey his subjects. The third series then is considered the real beginning of the work, achieving a fine balance that moves towards the theatrical. This new volume captures two additional bodies of work that overlap and influence MLG, including Zhang’s offshoot series Golden Compass, currently consisting of seven episodes focussed on sociopolitical issues that weigh heavy for Zhang and are universally affecting. Zhang’s prolific experiments and experimental treasures from his blissful Mr. Vincent Munch series conclude this volume, providing even further revelations into this fascinating artist.

Select paintings from MLG were first exhibited at Plus Gallery in Denver, Colorado in the three-person exhibition “New, Very New” in the spring of 2015. Additional works from the series were later exhibited at Grey Matter Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An assortment of Zhang’s ink studies from Mr. Vincent Munch were first exhibited in early 2015 in the group exhibition “Writing Portraits” at 33 Contemporary Art Museum in Guangzhou, China. Works related to that series were shown later that year in Beijing, China in the five-person exhibition “Making fun of each other – a double edged sword.” Selections from MLG were published in the Midwest Edition of New American Paintings #119 in August of 2015, and works from both MLG and Golden Compass were featured in an eight-page spread in the september issue of China’s National Arts.

The manner in which Zhang compartmentalizes his practice is a personal fascination, one that truly equates with his mantra that “To live is not for painting, but the act of painting is to live.” Bold concepts and engaging compositions continually flow from his brushes, or mark themselves out in pencil or ink, each achieving their own wondrous level of distinction. It is an honor to work closely with Xi Zhang, and a great privilege to share his blossoming career with others.

Ivar Zeile, 2016
Plus Gallery, Denver, CO, USA

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