||Beautiful and Joyous Images - On Zhou Weihua's Paintings
by Zhu Qi
Zhou Weihua’s paintings reflect the world as an image-making factory. By choosing public images and processing them through a personal filter, he screens a series of valuable spiritual images, which allowing his paintings to enter a cultural image ideology. These self-reflective images present a parallel to human existence. For example, he paints icons of the past (which are ever-present in today’s media) mixed with the young, Chinese generation, all expressing total satisfaction and jumping for the sky.
All of the images are beautiful and joyful in his paintings. You never see misery or tragedy. Zhou Weihua uses images that appear in documentaries and the media. These images are not connected to his private life; they are images of public consumption. Two main categories of people appear on his canvases. The first type is famous icons of the past: such as politician Mao Zedong and Che Guevara; film stars Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Zhou Xuan; singing legend John Lennon with wife Yoko Ono; socialist model-worker Lei Feng; culturalists Lu Xun and Bernarad Shaw and Cai Yuan Pei. The second type of people in Zhou’s paintings is unknown people with physical characteristics which match modern society’s ideals.
Zhou Weihua visually quotes public images. His paintings are a discussion of displaced images in both time and space. For example, in the series “Carefree” and “Playing Together,” historical figures come to modern China and view a modern city. There are scenes of a Zhong Kui play behind Audrey Hepburn. Zhong Kui and Zhou Xuan are with super-girls. Hollywood film toys and Divas of the Beijing opera play together. Besides the time displacement and a created simultaneous existence, the younger generation is floating in the sky, enjoying a hyper-real space.
“Time and space displacement are composed of a representational world of imagery. Chinese contemporary paintings show a large quantity of images,” says media theorist, Marshall McLuhan. He calls these information-bomb images “hot images.” Contemporary painting is evolutionary and Zhou Weihua translates photography imagery into informative and narrative images. In contemporary society, images divert into two groups; private and public.
The world today is filled with its living inhabitants and the legends of historical ghosts. The subject choices in his paintings are very personal. The public images have been broadcast or consumed frequently, and reflect common public interest. This era is an era of image-consumption, thus suggestive of where we stand as a culture. There are increasingly more images that are pleasant or joyful, but without any soul or personality. These representational images verify each other’s existence and form an ideological-structure, which is purely representational. This structure reflects the modern consumer-system, which seems to have three-dimensional, qualities, but is actually flat and deprived of meaning. The people’s consumption within this system will eventually lead to the representational existence of human kind.
The representational existence of images and humans are materialized in consumer society; this is the point of Zhou Weihua’s image system. The inspiration of his images, (like historic icons, fashionable modern Chinese, and Hollywood film toys) are purely representational. The historical images are mostly disconnected from their old and serious characteristics, and the modern images are deprived of all things real and cruel; they are hyper-realistic. Their characteristics are reflective of modern society and pursue something comic and absurd. In other words, the images do not reflect real life. They show the idealized scene of our desires; the public ideology of consumption.
In Zhou Weihua’s paintings, the figures are represented in absolute cuteness and joy. All the representations show the possibility of being free and flowing. They do not live in reality, and the historical people don’t live in the past. In his paintings there are no real dimensions, but only the dimension of absolute happiness. The people in the images are free from any connection to the past, like an existence in a permanent representation, where beauty and joy will last forever.
Zhou Weihua wants to highlight a society of consumption. It’s not necessary that we draw these images back to reality, instead he suggests that we walk from one representation to the next.