Visual Arts

Absurdist Interview: Artist Xi Zhang

Originally from China, Xi Zhang moved to Colorado seven years ago. He is an up-and-coming artist whose recent work confronts and explores identity and communication in our modern information age and globalized world. With many painting styles already under his belt, Zhang's philosophical powers come to bear on a series of paintings currently up at Plus Gallery, with one group blending traditions from abstraction and realism, creating a dreamlike visual experience, while the other humorously melds traditional Chinese pornography imagery with modern computer graphics. We talked to Xi Zhang about some of that, but not really.
WW: How many years would it take to balance out all the Yang in Denver? XZ: Probably about two or three years.

WW: If you were not you, who would you be? XZ: Hmm...that's a good question. Maybe, you know, a different form of me.

WW: Where does your mind go when you go to sleep? XZ: Actually, it's more like an abstract light, so more of like a maze, more a picture maze than a place.

WW: What would we do if we didn't have the Internet? XZ: Ha! Awesome question. If we don't have the Internet, I guess, we still would have some kind of new technology for communication. I cannot think of what kind of form it could be like. But I think it still will be something, like cell phones, or we could be using... I don't know, some other crazy form of communication. Anyway, my point is, even without the Internet, we'd still have some sort of new way of communication.

WW: Which do you think is the best century in history? XZ: Actually, what I feel is that the 21st century is the best, for me. In terms of communication, globally, in terms of the understanding we have from each culture, and in terms of interaction of art from art, globally.

WW: How do you feel about reality TV? XZ: That's one thing actually that I'm concerned about, about reality shows. I feel reality shows are just another form of illusion or commercial type show, whatever the entertainments are trying to promote to us, which could be a good thing, I mean... but the major thing I feel when talking about the reality shows is that because they use the term of "reality," somehow we are pushing this idea of what this reality could be. Almost like some shifting of the form of reality. But my concern is of reality existing in different levels, but this level, I don't know. I am questioning it. Is it really a reality show, or is it just another type of setting up?

WW: Do you have any jokes of the top of your head? XZ: Let me see... OK here's a joke: Yesterday, my friend and I were in the studio, and we were talking about the word "ass," and because I am from China, sometimes my friends are making fun of what I am trying to say, and my friend says, "Ah, see what happened to your ass? Did it get fatter?" when I was trying to say "badass" and it came out as "fat-ass." It's really funny, my friends are always making fun of me for my English.

WW: Did you grow up learning English or did you start learning when you moved to the States? XZ: Actually my English was really bad the first time I came here. I'm still not thinking my English is good enough. And I'm still working on it.

WW: Yeah, that has got to be difficult. XZ: Sometimes, I think it is the most challenging thing in my life so far.

WW: When was the last time that you slept in? XZ: A couple days ago, right after I finished all the new paintings.

WW: So you earned it, for sure. XZ: Yeah. Thank you.

WW: Who is your favorite author and why? XZ: My favorite author is Chinese. His name is Yahwei Leev. Actually, he's a poet, but author all the same. For him, I mean, it's not too much I'm caring about the narratives, I'm more caring about how he constructs the language. For example, a lot of my artmaking is pretty much influenced by his poem making.

He will take a certain thing we think is not able to happen with a word, for example like when we're talking about a "desktop" right? Desktop is a computer, right? And he will literally take that word and turn it into something else in terms of meaning, maybe like "desk" and "top," you know what I mean? He reconstructs these things and all his poems are structures with a twist, and they're very funny.

WW: Do you have a favorite cartoon character? XZ: Oh yeah, my favorite cartoon character could be Stewie.

WW: I saw your painting of Stewie at your show, and I really liked it. XZ: Thank you.

WW: Is there a particular reason why he's your favorite? XZ: I am always interested in his complicated personality, and how surrounding people react to it. I think it's so genius. Stewie is, such taste. You know, we are expecting what a form of a baby could be like, and the creators of Family Guy suggest a new way of looking at a baby. From today on, when looking at a baby there is a new identification, a new possibility; maybe it could be a baby smoking and a baby talking about sex, [laughs] you know. You know, identity of babies. Awesome.

WW: That's very true. I like the way you broke that down. Any last words, then? XZ: I want to make a clear statement as to why I'm making sort of two-body works, because from the feedback during the opening at Plus Gallery people were talking about why I'm having this particular figurative body of work and I have this funny and much more contemporary-art type work such as the pornography, in the same show. I feel like they are still from the same sources, and the figurative-type work -- I'm speaking of sources like the Internet and new forms of communication and new reception of reality. It is much more what people are talking about in life, whereas the funny ones are more relating to art history. Sometimes comedy is the best approach, and sometimes drama is the best way to talk about something, so I'm exploring both ways.

Xi Zhang's work is on display at Plus Gallery through January 15, 2011. He will also be showing the culmination of his Master's studies in a thesis exhibition at the CU Boulder Art Museum on April 4th. To view more of his work online visit

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Ben Dayton
Contact: Ben Dayton