Contemporary Chinese artist Sun Ziyao asks who are we?
25 November 2019 | words/images by Marcus Reubenstein
At first sight one could easily describe Sun Ziyao’s demeanour as relaxed; but meet him and that impression soon becomes one of relaxed confidence. The 32-year old Beijing-based artist is about to open his third exhibition in Sydney and, an hour before the guests arrive, he’s chilling outside the Vermilion Gallery in the city’s historic Rocks district.
“Art is a question,” says Sun. “I don’t intend to find the answer through my painting, instead I just explore one of the many possibilities towards my answer.”
Different subjects on the same foundation
His current exhibition is running simultaneously with another solo exhibit of his works in Shanghai. In 2019 his works have been shown at five solo and group exhibitions in both Australia and China.
While his intention is to allow the audience to make up its mind, he hopes his subject matter does not create confusion but rather “gives the audience a sense of security.”
His works are all on paper, combining various mediums – including inks, charcoal, pencil and wax. There is a consistency of style, which makes his work familiar; but an exploration of the subject matter which makes each of his works unique.
“All my works have a solid foundation,” he says, “which is then developed into different subject matter. This exhibition is entitled Our Friends and Us, this is a very general concept. It asks who are our friends? It could be us, as one human to another, it could be with animals or nature.”
“It all gets back to the question: Who am I? Or who are we? And what is our connection to the world that surrounds us?”
A sense of security
One of the major exhibition pieces is Sun Wukong and White Dragon Horse (2019) mixed media on Xuan paper. The subjects are characters from the 16th Century Chinese novel Xīyóu Jì (西遊記) by Wu Cheng’en. Its English title of Journey to the West is better known to western audiences from its English translation novel Monkey which was released in 1942.
It is a very a contemporary take on an ancient theme and touches on a constant theme that Sun hopes to explore with his art – of the certainty and uncertainty, which he says co-exists in modern society.
“Living in a fast-changing society gives me a sense of insecurity and to me art gives me a sense of security against this backdrop,” he says. “This is not a theme unique to China, insecurity is experienced everywhere in the world.”
These exhibition works depict both humans and animals as subjects, Sun says he deliberately paints both in a similar style. “At first glance I wouldn’t think an audience would say my works have a strong oriental influence… what I do is explore the reasons for why painting still exists and why it empowers us.
“My art is not intended to explore eastern or western philosophy or aesthetics but more about my concerns about the world in general.”
Chinese artist with a contemporary global outlook
Born in the coastal city of Dalian, Sun now lives and works in the Beijing Bridge Art District. It’s appeal for Sun is not simply as an incubator for contemporary Chinese art; but also as a collective of artists who’ve traveled extensively around the world.
“Chinese contemporary artists are very ambitious, particularly against the backdrop of a society that is developing so quickly. When traveling abroad and viewing contemporary western art I can see that Chinese art is developing even more rapidly than our society,” he says.
“That’s why you can see a very raw touch in some of my work, I hope to awaken people’s feelings.”
Our Friends and Us is showing at Vermilion Art 16 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay until 21 December 2019