In springtime West London, the restlessness of the world seems very far away. Yet, in the HJ Art Gallery, where the Zhou Zhiwei’s exhibition is on show, the endless debates and harsh realities of our times occupy the minds of hosts and visitors alike.
Reading through the many themes arising from the works of this Italian-Chinese artist, we perceive a subtle but profound question: why is the search for beauty in art unable to positively affect the present? Perhaps, a possible answer is related to the process underlying these paintings, realized in the last twenty years.
The mountain peaks of Tibet and the Taoists sanctuaries, beautifully traced by the soft and incisive brushwork, appear to be cloaked by scattered clouds, mitigating their roughness. Even the mythical characters of the Greek tradition, whether Sisyphus or Medea, seem to be removed from their burdensome destiny. They draw the visitor’s attention without inducing uneasiness. And so do the lagoon landscapes or the nostalgic views of ancient Rome.
In Zhou Zhiwei’s works, the dramatic dimension is overcome by a veil of calm and intimate joy, detectable in every element of the painting, whether it is a representation of the naturalistic landscape or of the human condition. He expresses the feelings of his life experience, seeking the harmony of shapes and colours, the founding elements for beauty in art. Even Sisyphus, in his terrible suffering – trapped in hardship of life, without an end in sight – does not look condemned by mysterious divine forces.
On the contrary, we read him as a free thinker, reflecting on the issues of beauty and ugliness, good and evil. And of so many other possible opposites. As if the enormous rock he is supposed to carry had evolved into a greyish shadow of doubt – the necessary life companion of those who still find fulfilment in exercising their own will.
Here, among the veins of colour, carefully modulated by the artist’s expert hand, we can detect an arcane musical melody. Around those figures, behind the peaks of the mountains and in the shallow waters of the lagoon, we perceive an invisible orchestra. This music caresses our souls and reassures us with answers to our deeper questions.
Everything around us can nurture our body and our mind. Even the events surrounding us now, for the better or the worse, will remain part of us. We should be grateful for art’s extraordinary potential and its quasi-shamanic prowess to overcome the impasse of our unanswered questions. Perhaps, if we want to internalize Zhou Zhiwei’s message, we should immerse ourselves in the quality of his reflections, and adapt our sensory perceptions to this permanent psychodynamic equilibrium.
Gerardo Lo Russo
Artist, former director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome
London, 7th May 2022