(Original language: Mandarin)
ZHANG XIAOGANG: It was 1994 when this work became the starting point of a series of paintings. Its inspiration and preparation began in the second half of 1993. It was simply triggered by the discovery of an old family photo which made me wonder why the photo touched me so much. So many things are embodied in history that we have neglected in the past. When I looked at the family photo, I saw my parents in their youth which contrasted with ours, and I was deeply moved.
This concept of ‘family’ is very meaningful because I feel that the Big Family series has been influenced by my own family. ‘Family’ also relates to the environment in which I live I was very much concerned with the changes in my family. Besides, I was influenced by where I lived I ate, lived, taught, and did my creative work, everything.
There in a unit at the courtyard of my school; I spent my days there and felt that it became my family too. Human relationships were so complicated. However, the birth of my child in 1994 brought changes to my family. It affected my personal life greatly. I associated the appearance of a child in the sitting room with my own childhood and youth. This added some depth to the ‘family’ concept. It was no longer a superficial idea about public and private relationships. It could be, like the name given to the work a bit later, related to bloodlines.
I like to add in a little colour amongst the black and white like shining dots and red lines to emphasise the changes made. However, the colours are not warm/cool, but related to black/white. The colours are tones and not colours. The concept of the red lines was initially influenced by Frida Kahlo although hers had another meaning which was the relationship between one life and another. I wanted to string these people together. They might be relatives, friends or unrelated. I wanted to string them together like a network to create the feeling of a family.
Artist Zhang Xiaogang discusses his seminal Bloodline Series, and how it was inspired by the discovery of an old family photo.
In 1993, Zhang Xiaogang began the Bloodline series, which comprises some of the most iconic images in Chinese contemporary art. In this video, he explains how his discovery of family photographs—thought to have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution—inspired these paintings.
In the series, Zhang makes little distinction between male and female facial features, suggesting an indifference to individuality. He established a clear identity as an artist by shedding Western aesthetics to focus on personal narrative and collective memory.
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