BEIJING— Zhou Chunya, whose 30-year retrospective was held at the Shanghai Art Museum in June and who has just been named one of Martell’s 2010 Artists of the Year, is a leading member of the generation of artists who first brought Chinese contemporary art to the attention of a global audience in the late 1990s. On the face of it, his life follows a familiar trajectory of other members of that generation.
He grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and came of age in time to take advantage of the re-opening of the universities at the close of that decade and embrace the ideas from the West that flowed into China when Deng Xiaoping launched the open-door policy in 1978. Taking up a place in the 1980s avant-garde movement, Zhou, like many of his peers, then spent the post-1989 chill slowly building his career. When the world finally came knocking in the late 1990s, he was ready.
Yet Zhou has never been one to follow the script. As a student, when his classmates were all heading for the booming coastal provinces, he went to Tibet and there produced a series of loving depictions of nomad life which, in all their innocent “socialist realist” splendor, have the power to move even today. Later he went to Germany where he studied at Kassel, the home of Documenta.
Over the years, he has continued to pursue a singular course, devoting himself primarily to developing his passionate and ever-more-fluid painting technique.
Many know him best for his series of paintings and occasional sculptures of his dog, a German Shepherd. Due to a chance splash of color one day, he decided to always render his dog paintings in green, and over the years we have watched his pet grow older, and perhaps a little angrier.
Of late, his art has been of a completely different bent, bucolic and erotic, with a series of works depicting peach blossom orchards. These latest canvases seem to complete a circle for Zhou, hearkening back to his early scenes of Tibetan life, with their celebration of natural beauty, sensual and free.