Zhou Fan is a rising star in the Chinese art scene – he is a young, yet extremely creative, Chinese contemporary artist. His paintings have attracted attention at exhibitions in New York, Germany and Shanghai. In the Chinese Art Prize 2007, Zhou Fan was selected as one of the top 3 emerging Chinese contemporary artists (out of over 1300 entries into the art prize) by Gerard Goodrow, Director of Art Cologne, Jeff Kelley, Curator of the Asian Art Museum in California and other important judges.
The first thing that strikes people when they view Zhou Fan’s work is how his paintings are so colourful and detailed. Zhou Fan spends many hours carefully painting the details and tiny lines which compose his subjects. Some people have remarked that the paintings have a “Japanese quality” to them. Zhou Fan is in fact ¾ Chinese and ¼ Japanese, and while his Japanese side has probably had some influence on the artist’s interests, Zhou has spent his whole life in China and cannot even speak Japanese. Zhou Fan paints his works so colourfully because his subject matter, such as jellyfish, is colourful. Jellyfish can glow a multitude of colours as they float in the ocean’s skies. While they are calm and soothing fish to look at, they pack a powerful sting that can even kill small fish or animals. Zhou has explained that one of his priorities is to make his works attractive, which is another reason why he makes his works so colourful. “Visual effect” is one of the priorities of any artist, according to Zhou.
Zhou Fan has been very inspired by his childhood. While the artist has always had a strong fascination for Jellyfish, Zhou’s “Love of Jellyfish” series of paintings is based on dreams that he had as a young boy of many jellyfish floating in the sky, some of which fell to the ground on parachutes and became mushrooms. These dreams had a strong impact on the artist, and he remembers them vividly. The artist explains, “Somehow I feel that it is easier to focus on dreams than reality”. According to psychologists, our daily fantasies and dreams are actually extensions and expansion of our reality.
In another series of paintings, Zhou Fan paints a fat boy, with many moles and a big tire-ring of fat around his neck. The series is titled: “Teacher, I won’t do it again”. The fat boy is crying, and he has a band-aid on his finger, which has clearly been bleeding. In some of the paintings in the series, the boy has a candy in his hand; presumably, the boy has been eating too much candy and the teacher scolded him, so he is crying. This subject-matter, too, harks back to Zhou Fan’s childhood, when he had a very fat classmate in school who could not stop eating candies. Zhou was sympathetic towards the boy and felt bad when teachers were harsh to his fat classmate. Even Zhou’s classmates were mean to the boy and picked on him a lot.
While Zhou Fan’s paintings may at first look happy and cheerful because they are colourful, many of the artist’s works have a sad undertone to them. Zhou seems to be quite sensitive to the fact that people can be cruel and destructive, and he can see the effect China’s societal changes are having on individuals and the society as a whole. Clearly, the crying fat boy, while he looks humorous, is actually tormented by his teacher and classmates. Communist concepts of everyone being equal are not a reality for the fat boy; even though he has done nothing wrong to anyone, he is still put down and looked down on. The boy is discriminated against. In another painting, Zhou Fan has placed a figure of a boy in the bottom left corner; the boy’s hand is on his face, and coming out of his hand appears to be either jellyfish tentacles or noodle-looking things. Zhou explains about the boy, “The boy crying in the painting keeps things within him, is easily sad, and he refuses to face reality.” This is also a commentary on society – that boys are supposed to keep their emotions within them, and as a result they are sad inside. Also, refusing to face reality points to the fact that the boy does not like reality – so he wants to ignore it. What is so bad about reality that a young boy does not want to face reality? Again, China’s tremendous current social changes have made life confusing and sometimes even terrifying for children growing up in such an environment.
Zhou Fan says that he has been influenced by paintings from the Qing Dynasty, when they combined all sorts of unrelated “flowers and birds” in order to create an atmosphere within the works. In his newest series of paintings, Zhou Fan has several paintings of women wearing hats composed of a wide variety of living things, which seem to be unrelated, such as ladybugs, plants, flowers, fish and jellyfish. At first glance, it seems to be surprising that these things have been placed together – and it provides much food for thought. Yet after looking at the works and pondering them for a while, these things are painted together so harmoniously that they seem to fit together, like pieces in a fantasy puzzle. Zhou’s variety of combined beings also reflects life in China, with so many different influences, historical, modern, Eastern and Western come into our lives from different angles.
In Zhou Fan’s newest series, often tentacles of the jellyfish are dangling down from the women’s headwear, and in one painting the tentacles are reaching down, holding up an object in front of a woman, like a carrot held on a stick in front of a donkey. The various, twisted tentacles could be said to represent the complications of life and how twists and entanglements of even small things can tie people down. But also, they are simply the result of wearing a hat made of jellyfish! Zhou Fan likes to combine the impossible, and while it looks beautiful within the paintings, the results can be confusing and chaotic-seeming.