When viewing Ziping Wang’s artworks, one is immediately struck by the frenetic energy generated by each piece. Enhanced by the vibrant colour palette, her canvases seem almost to infiltrate our very senses. Made up of various fragments that offset and interact with each other, Wang’s artworks mirror the idea of the multi-faceted contemporary mindset. Today, our access to imagery, from consumer visuals to art historical image archives, is almost completely unencumbered. In this sense, Wang is primarily inspired by the abundance of imagery in modern day society with her artworks seeking to visualise this notion of information overload.
As such, it is unsurprising that Wang has been principally inspired by contemporary artists such as James Rosenquist, Albert Oehlen and Laura Owens whose works frequently combine various disparate elements. As Wang herself states, “I guess I was drawn to all of them because of their way of executing a painting: whether it is a silkscreen repetition of perfection, a whimsical exploration of materiality, or an unsettling gesture of abstraction.”
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2012, Oil paint, acrylic paint, acrylic resin, fabric and pumice on canvas, 274.5 x 213.4 cm (Credit: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/owens-untitled-t14237)
Ziping Wang, Whisper in slow motion, 2021, Oil on canvas, 55 cm x 45 cm
In particular, Wang singles out the first time she viewed James Rosenquist’s F-111 (1964-65) in person during a visit to the MOMA in New York with her undergraduate painting professor. Wang encountered the piece hanging floor to ceiling in a small room, radiating all over with snapshots of consumer visuals. On first viewing, she recalls how she was fascinated by the use of colour and the immediate impact of larger-than-life imagery. For Wang, as an international student come to study in America, the painting represented the essence of New York art and of the city itself. Before Wang was able to pick out certain familiar elements within the work, the piece came together cohesively to form a lasting impression. Similarly, Wang’s own work might initially be overwhelming but, on closer study, viewers are able to discern recognisable elements within the canvases, forming their own personal connections to each piece.
James Rosenquist, F-111 (installation view), 1964-65,
Wang is also continually drawn to vintage posters and packaging. She points to her love for vintage Shanghai cigarette box advertisements, which are always intricately designed with a hand painted quality. The women depicted in these advertisements, dubbed “cigarette girls”, are always traditionally beautiful and well dressed, almost to contend deliberately with the content of the poster, which recommends smoking. As Wang points out, in the past health warnings on commodities such as cigarettes were not mandatory. In this way, these beautifully painted images seem directly to oppose a product that could potentially be dangerous. Similarly, Wang’s own works entice viewers with familiar and highly perfected imagery. However, when we look closer and when combined with so many disparate elements, the meaning of these visuals transforms, becoming displaced from its original referent.
Vintage print, Sun Tobacco Company (Credit: https://retrographik.com/vintage-chinese-art-print-sun-tobacco-company/)
Wang has also always found herself captivated by the vivid colours and logos of candy wrappers, particularly the White Rabbit candy wrappers, which are popular in China. Visual parallels can be found here in Wang’s own paintings which have appropriated the brand’s rabbit motif. In Painting for the Unsung Bird (2020), presented for the artist’s solo Platform exhibition last year, the White Rabbit logo borders the top and bottom most edges of the picture plane hovering above and below the various other fragments of the work. Wang’s interest in candy wrappers speaks to her will to engage with memory, drawing viewers deeper into her works through their own childhood recollections of their favourite sweet snacks. Again, Wang continues to play with these recognisable logos; they begin to lose their intended meaning as they are revealed and concealed through the multiple elements of Wang’s saturated canvases.
White Rabbit Candy Wrapper ( Credit: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/722194490232823970/)
Ziping Wang, Painting for the Unsung Bird, 2020, Oil on canvas, 101.6 cm x 76.2 cm
As Wang herself explains: “The sourced imagery, the repetition of grid, the coloured blobs that seem to float across the surfaces are being coordinated on my claustrophobic canvases. I always love to describe how I see my own painting. Each element is liberated from its literal context and becomes the simple language that every painter is familiar with: colour and shapes. For me, painting is also about constant decision making. It is quite poetic that while I am physically colouring in the grey and white grid, those patches are actually acting like erasing marks on the surface. The more I colour in, the more it disappears.”
Don’t miss Ziping Wang’s solo exhibition, The Other Landscape, at Unit London. Last chance to view until Monday 2nd August.