Zhang Enli to debut unseen works for Fortnum & Mason’s new artistic initiative
The Chinese artist’s suite of oil paintings and watercolour works is inspired by his frequent journeys to and across the UK over the past year, harnessing themes of travel, mapping, immigration and relocation
We are used to seeing eastern landscapes and cultures depicted by western painters, but in Zhang Enli’s beguiling works we see British terrains through the celebrated Chinese artist’s eyes. For a forthcoming exhibition at Fortnum & Mason, open in store from 10 September as the fourth in the institution’s annual artist initiative, Enli travelled between London and Scotland.
Inspired by both the urban and the rural, 18 new paintings translate the landscapes and atmosphere of the UK into expressionistic maps, tracing his journeys in watercolour. A series of 12 works of numbered, anonymous Destinations give aerial view of the British countryside, a perspective we’re increasingly used in a globally mobile world. While some resemble zoomed-out views as if from a plane, others become more minimal and abstract— Destination 10 a simple curving line, the artery of a waterway on against an ecru background.
The swarthy greens, turquoise blues and dusky yellows present Britain in a different palette than native painters before Enli who have defined the way we see the country, the dominant greys and browns of Turner, Constable and Gainsborough. Pops of bright orange and yellow have more in common with Hockney, a British painter but who showed us the British countryside as a foreigner might see it. Undulating waves of colour become more contemplative and abstract in others works: a series of five Profiles look almost like microbiological sketches, swirls and swashes around organic shapes. In two works, figures suddenly appear – the artist, looking out.
‘My deepest impression of London is its diversity,’ Zhang recalls over email. The artist also spend extended periods of time in the Highlands. Earlier this year he presented a new installation on walls and ceilings of The Drawing Room at the Fife Arms (the hotel owned by Enli’s gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth). Titled Ancient Quartz, the work is a topographical vision, referencing cross sections of Scottish agates. ‘My experience in Scotland always reminds me of a moment in history,’ Enli reflects on the time he spent there.
Having visited the UK more than a dozen times since his first trip in 2009, Enli looks at British culture with endless curiosity and even romanticism – something many locals, in the current political climate, might have lost. It’s this dialogue with the structures of Britain – it’s nature, history and environment – that makes Enli’s work such a unique encounter. ‘The most memorable thing was when I was in the Royal Academy exhibition last year. I truly realised the definition and protection of cultural relics within British culture, which I think we all need to learn.’
A series of works on paper by Enli will also feature at Fortnum’s first flagship store abroad, set to open within the K11 Musea development in Hong Kong. §