Artist Exposes China's Soul ; Zhang Xiaotao's Works in Animation Incorporate Surrealism and Nostalgia

By Perlez, Jane | International New York Times, January 4, 2016 | Go to article overview

Artist Exposes China's Soul ; Zhang Xiaotao's Works in Animation Incorporate Surrealism and Nostalgia


Perlez, Jane, International New York Times


The films of Zhang Xiaotao try to show what the intense pressure to achieve wealth and success in modern China does to the soul.

Zhang Xiaotao, one of China's leading animation artists, grew up in a village in southwestern China where the ferocity of the Cultural Revolution left indelible marks on everyone. His father, a leader of the local Red Guards, emerged with his spirit broken by what he saw and did.

But that is not what Mr. Zhang remembers from his childhood. Instead of the violence, he recalls the imposing Catholic church near his home, 30 miles north of here, built by French missionaries at the turn of the 20th century. Its broad verandas and colonnades, encrusted with moss in the clammy summer months, remained after the violence, and tall stands of bamboo provided swaths of shade.

Mr. Zhang, 45, remembers the church so vividly because he would play on the grounds there. And by the time he was 10, when his parents had abandoned him to find work far away, it had become a place of dreams where he would take his sketchbook and paint.

Nostalgia for the big whitewashed building infuses a number of Mr. Zhang's award-winning digital animation films, which explore China's rush to modernization. In sometimes surreal ways, the films try to show what the intense pressure to achieve wealth and success does to the soul.

It is not so much the church's physical structure that appears in his work, although it does occasionally. Rather, it is the building's sense of calm that, he said, contrasts with the almost intolerable intensity of contemporary urban China.

"I have deep memories from the church as a child," he said in his studio at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he studied as a young man and now heads the new media department. Around him, dozens of young digital artists labored over computer screens to help complete one of his new works. "When I was playing there as a child, I could see people praying, and I felt a profound sense of religion." Those who prayed were not organized by priests or nuns. The official church had long been expelled from China. They were men and women who were too old to be dragged into the madness of the Cultural Revolution, and who turned to the church in his village as a place of solace, much as Mr. Zhang does today.

Mr. Zhang's latest work, "Spring in Huangjueping," is a two-hour digital animation movie that he has entered into the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival. He was elated that the film had made the jury's first cut. The idea of the film, he said, is to draw parallels between the Cultural Revolution and the dismal period nearly 20 years later when he sought entry to the institute. He failed the entrance exam three times, an experience that still haunts him.

The movie is cast with figures drawn in the style of a graphic novel: skinny young men and women from Mr. Zhang's student days are dressed in basic T-shirts and pants, while Red Guards from the earlier era appear in drab olive uniforms with rifles. The landscape resembles the gritty parts of the industrial city of Chongqing, and its outskirts in Huangjueping, where the art institute and his studio are. "The brutal college entrance exam and the frenetic beliefs of my father's generation: How similar are they?" Very, he concludes.

Like many artists in China who are known in the West, Mr. Zhang seems to be in perpetual motion. He shuttles between Chongqing and Beijing, the commercial center of China's art world where he shows up at gallery exhibits, does deals and still paints in a studio in the 798 complex, the contemporary-art area. There, in the entrance to his studio hang two paintings with distinctly religious motifs: a copy of El Greco's "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" and a contemporary version of Buddha. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Artist Exposes China's Soul ; Zhang Xiaotao's Works in Animation Incorporate Surrealism and Nostalgia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.