Wang Zhigang 王志剛
"Buddha is China's biggest celebrity, bigger than Marilyn Monroe. He has more staying power than Mao Zedong," says the artist, joking. "But seriously." A native of Xuzhou, in Jiangsu Province, Wang earned a degree in Stage Design at the prestigious Shanghai Theater Academy and was on the faculty from 1989 to 1996.
Wang Zhigang moved to the U.S. in 1996 and began to paint images of the Buddha, as a full-time artist based in California. Returning to Shanghai in 2007, Wang started reading the "Sutra of Great Wisdom" (Jin'gang jing), painting Buddha heads, each 15 x 15 cm (6 x 6 inches) until they covered the first 2.5 meters of his studio walls and the surface of an antique opium bed. The heads are a cipher for completion. These small paintings are sculptural and delicate, each hand-painted, so that the color shifts and alters from dawn to dusk with the light.
A cough and an X-ray started him on a new series of paintings of the seated Buddha, using acrylic paint and X-ray on canvas. The paintings contrast the permanence of form and impermanence of life. The gallery has four paintings remaining from a series of forty images. The palette of blue, black and grey is soothing and beautiful, calm, yet forcefully concrete, giving us a meditation on illness, human frailty and the wish for permanence found in sari beads ("pearls" or bone shards that remain when a Bodhisattva is cremated).
An accomplished painter of the landscape, over time he came to feel that "there is the landscape, and me, and there is something in between the two that is Zen." His drawings of coiled forms in ink and color (1996-1998) moved him from realism into abstraction. From 1999 on he began to create stone textured fingerprints and images of the Buddha which test the line between what is illusion and what is real, what is permanent and ephemeral.
Psychotherapost Marina Walker reviewed his first solo show in Santa Barbara in 1999: "Emotionally subtle and delicately expansive, Wang's paintings reflect his Eastern origins. Even though a Millet-like classicism suffuses the pastoral imagery of his earlier works with a gentle, painterly richness, there is always the measured, self-contained style of an introspective nature..."
The dragonfly "Armed for Flight" has grown hands in the form of the mudra of Buddhist practice. The canvas is large, 170 x 150 cm (70 x 59 in.), painted when Wang lived and worked in a 6 square meter flat in downtown Shanghai. The small format paintings, with seated Buddhas 30 x 40 cm (11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.) and Buddha heads each 15 x 15 cm in dimension were created in his Shanghai studio, a factory space in Minhang.
Works from the two Buddha series featured in his first solo show in Hong Kong, opening March 8, 2016 at Art-Life Gallery Workshop and in a digital loop of the head of Buddha.