China+Art : Zhang Zhong Qi “I am totally self-educated”


As you may know, I lived in China for a few months. In Beijing and then in Shanghai, where I’ve met Zhang Zhong Qi aka Pianzi. I was wandering in the streets of M50, a famous art district in Shanghai where you can find more than 120 art galleries, artists’ studios, art shops and cafés and I’ve been to Pianzi’s studio. There, I fell in love with his artworks. I tried to talk with him, but the discussion was very limited as my Chinese is very bad and his English is as good as my Chinese.

A few weeks later, I came back with my dear Chinese friend Peng Qing Li aka Patrick. We did the interview together and Anaïs Qianzi helped me to translate from Chinese to English. A real group work ! I would like to say thank you to them.

Thanks to this interview, I aim to share my experience in China and show off to the world how talented Chinese artists are.

I had the opportunity to record this interview with a camera. Unfortunately, as it was my first time, the sound isn’t good at all. The next one will be better !


Sound : Nye Veve Sese – Jojo Abot  (You can listen to this song while reading the interview)

IYAA : Could you introduce yourself and talk about your background ?

Pianzi : I come from Kunming and I came to Shanghai 14 years ago, in November 2002. At that time, I fortunately got a part time job as a photographer for That’s Shanghai. And I was lucky to find an incredible art community where artists were already in practice. I told myself, maybe it’s a chance for me to restart my art career here.




IYAA : You were a photographer, why did you change your mind and became a full time artist ?

Pianzi : Actually, I started creating art in the 80’s, but I never felt like I was a full time artist. After coming to Shanghai, I thought I could try more. 




IYAA : What is the overall aesthetic of your art ?

Pianzi : I don’t think too much when I’m creating an art piece. I’m only focused on beautiful wishes. For me, it’s really a great thing to show and to convey the beauty through my creations. The aesthetic just comes spontaneously when an artwork is finished.




“I am totally self-educated”



IYAA : Did you self-educated or did you go to university to study art ?

Pianzi : I was born in the 50’s. At that time in Kunming, we didn’t really have opportunities to go to school. But when I saw the adults carrying the easel, going to the park and painting the nature, I had the desire to become a painter, like them. In other words, I could say I am totally self-educated as a painter and artist overall. 




IYAA : Which conception or subject is frequently represented in your art work ?

Pianzi : It’s hard to say. I change my concepts all the time. It depends on the period.




“I feel like each character comes to life”



IYAA : What about the recent period ?

Pianzi : I’m interested in Chinese characters. When they are enlarged, carved in wood and printed on canvas. I feel they are different from how we recognize them in daily life, for example, if we are reading or getting information. I feel like each character comes to life, they are visual and vivid in my work.






IYAA : What do you want to express through these characters ? This artwork, for example.


Pianzi : This is one paragraph of Diamond sutra*, and these characters were printed on a photograph which I took a couple of years ago. This photo records the families during a special occasion. They passed by East Nanjing road, the most famous touristic place in Shanghai. By connecting Buddha to the ordinary people, I wanted to convey a feeling of humanity, a universal value.


比如像这张作品? 这个是《金刚经》里面的一段,我把它印在了多年前的一张摄影作品上,这张作品展现了来上海旅游的普通家庭,在著名的南京路上的合影留念,我想通过关联佛家及普通人,传达一种人文关怀,普世价值。


IYAA : In 2003, you chose to be a resident artist at 50 Moganshan Street, originally because of the willingness of this area to create art. But nowadays, this art community is quite popular. What do you think about it ?

Pianzi : Coming in M50 to show off my art was my initial motivation. I remember at the beginning of 2002, some artists communities appeared both in Beijing and Shanghai. I believed it was a good thing for artists. Before, Chinese artists’ created art at home. They have started to get together in some locations like 798 in Beijing and 50 Moganshan Street in Shanghai to create an open platform, to show off their art to the public.






IYAA : Is this environment is bringing you more inspiration ?

Pianzi : Not really. I just have more opportunities to meet the public by myself because I’m a resident here.




IYAA : Is there a lot of artists from Beijing in Shanghai ?

Pianzi : Yes, the galleries in Shanghai like to organize some exhibitions for them and represent their artworks. Actually, at the beginning, most of the Chinese contemporary artists which caught the attention of western countries were all from Beijing. But they didn’t want to move to Shanghai. The lifestyle here is too different from the North part of China. (Note : if you don’t know China, it’s an extremely vast country where culture and language change depending on the city you are). 





IYAA : Did you gain more visibility on the art scene since you started being a resident in M50 ?

Pianzi : I believe that a lot people know my name and there are quite a few European collectors who notice my existence. They come to visit me regularly since 2003. But I am not really involved in the national art scene and exhibitions in China.




IYAA : Why ?

Pianzi : There are always a lot things to do to get in the art community, to get into connections to the people who are in the same field. It’s a lot of social work. I prefer to keep independent. My studio is already open to the public and to the world. I welcome many visitors from all over the world every day. This is enough for me.




DSCF3732 (1).jpg



“Today, you can’t live without internet. You can’t really avoid these apps.”



IYAA : How do you promote your work in China ? 

Pianzi : Nowadays, with the development of the Internet and technology, a lot of apps appeared for artists. I’m using “zai yi”, it was created especially for sharing our art. After registering on it, you can upload the photos of your work, exchange your opinion with the art community and share the information of your future exhibitions and events. I think it’s a good platform to share art, especially for young people. I upload some pictures daily and communicate with my community, which is very interested in my work. But personally, I don’t really care too much about this. For me, the most important thing is the artistic creation.

Today, you can’t live without internet. You can’t really avoid these apps. Now I can get attention from a public just by uploading the video of this interview and saying you are a very famous art critic.



现在上传信息变成了生活中不可缺的内容, 因为觉得好玩,比如我现在就可以把采访的 视频上传到这个平台,可能会受到一些关注。




IYAA : Ahah ! I will ! Do you mean that people are living too fast and pay more attention to gimmicks rather than art itself ?

Pianzi : I’m not saying this is bad. These tech companies need to continue to live. But attracting people’s attention is one of the most important and difficult parts. It’s almost a part of an artist’s job. People get bored quickly, if you don’t pay attention to your social media, you lose followers.

For the moment, “zai yi” has more than 100 employees, it’s not easy for them to continue to live. But I think, it’s much better to participate in some international exhibitions, like these in Basel, Miami, or the Venice Biennale. These exhibitions can bring me more opportunities and make me gain visibility and notoriety. 


我并不是说这样的传播方式不好,因为这样 APP 想要生存下去,必须要吸引眼球, 一些夸张的像广告一样的成分,如果只一味 地做专业性很强的东西,肯定难以生存下去。 媒体也可能传播很好的作品,但是仅仅这样 是不够的。在艺这个 APP 目前有一百多 个员工,花费很大,怎么能让这个平台维持 下去,就不可能做一个纯学术的平台。现在 比较好的方式可能是做一个国际艺术博览 ,巴塞尔,迈阿密,威尼斯双年展,这些 是对我来说比较有效的,而且快速,影响力 会很大,其他我就不知道了。


IYAA : Do you have some agency to represent your work?

Pianzi : For the moment, no.




IYAA : What are your expectations for Chinese contemporary art ?

Pianzi : It will be more and more diverse and prosperous with the young generation. But I can’t really for-see what it’s going to look like.


会越来与丰富,越来越活跃,现在年轻一代, 现在年轻人直接就进入了当代艺术的创作, 而且这个群体越来越大,将来肯定会繁荣, 但是能够做到哪一步,我还真不知道。


IYAA : What is your opinion about the Chinese young generation ?

Pianzi : They are very involved in art and art activities. The young people who use this app “zai yi”, go to exhibitions every week. The post 90’s and 2000’s are open minded, they have a wider view than the old generations. They have a quite rich knowledge of art and are capable to express themselves. In Shanghai, there is a wide choice of art events and these young people are willing to spend money on it.


他们在积极地投入,参与,这个非常重要, 就像在在艺这个平台上的年轻人,他们 每个周末都会去看展览,这就是非常积极的 态度,现在 90 00 后的孩子,他们视野和 语境都不一样,能够交流,他们关注的点跟 我们过去认识的年轻人是不一样的,知道该 怎么谈,点找得准,这就是多看的结果, 上海周末的生活非常丰富,有各种可能性, 他们也愿意花钱去做这些事情,从外地来的 人可能会觉得看展览太贵了,但对这些孩子 来说没问题,他们会花这个钱,这是非常好 的。




“Since the financial crisis of 2009, the Chinese contemporary art market has been badly impacted.”



IYAA : How did you look at yourself in the past five years?

Pianzi : It was a quiet terrible period for me. The past five years, I’ve been through a very difficult time  because I could hardly sell my work. Since the financial crisis of 2009, the Chinese contemporary art market has been badly impacted. I believe there are a lot of artists like me who suffered from it. Everyday I open my eyes, the question of how making a living lingers around. Before 2008, I could always sell a couple of paintings every month, I had much less pressure at that time. But all these difficulties never beat me down, I always keep the faith of life and living.


过去的五年是非常糟糕非常艰难的五年,08 年后生活开始进入谷底,因为卖不出去画, 09 年金融危机,中国的当代艺术也受到很大 的影响,我相信过去五年,许多艺术家都在 噩梦当中,都在挣扎,我也一样,每天睁开 眼睛都要面临生存的问题,不像 08 年以前, 一个月可以卖几张画,生存压力没有像现在 这么大,但这些都没有影响我对生活的信念


IYAA : What is your expectation for next five years ?

Pianzi : Continuing my art creation. I always take time to do my works, with full patience. This one (picture below) took me 10 months, and the black one over there, I spent 2 years to accomplish them. I experience my life in the process of creating art despite the poverty.


在目前的环境下,继续艺术创作,我做作品 都是不惜花时间的,像这个作品画了 10 个月 的时间,金刚经,黑色的用了两年的时间, 桃花源记,归去来袭词,在缓慢的节奏中, 在做作品的过程中去感受生命,虽然很穷, 没有钱。


IYAA : Is the Chinese society who brings you the majority of your inspiration ?

Pianzi : Of course. This is the original source that offers me ideas with. I live in this society, I will never avoid or refuse it which actually I couldn’t make it. All my works are relevant to Chinese society, which I believe no western artist can make the similar ones. And my future works will be the same, but I will try to make them simpler, easier to understand, which will be art works for common people.




IYAA : Thanks for the interview.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s