Artist Spotlight: Hengzhi Gong

In this editorial series Artsted is offering a dive into the stories of artists, taking them on a weekly discovery sprint: learn about the practice, process, philosophy and conceptual research behind the platform’s best contemporary creators.

Hi! Happy to have you here for the interview. Would you mind telling the readers abut yourself?

Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting

I am Hengzhi Gong and I am 26. I am from Chongqing, China. Now I am living in London as a research student at RCA, my primary medium is painting.

Do you remember a specific point in time you realised you wanted to be an artist?

I started to paint when I was in my undergraduate in China. At that time, I was studying information engineering and I was bored of programming on the computer every day. At that time I was thinking about doing something else, and I realised that I had thousands of expressions wanted to express loudly. Therefore, I went to an art shop to get some paints and brushes and started to paint.

I think I realised I was an artist when the first time I came to the art shop:)

Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting
Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting

How do you get inspired? And what is your creative process like?

I care about politics, especially what is happening in China. My works always come from China’s current social and political issues; then, I weave an absurd narrative to give everyday images in my painting a particular political allegory.

I create to express. I am a reticent Chinese who seldom speaks much. My personality conveys itself implicitly, which does not so much exist in my daily behaviour but surfaces in paintings where my thoughts and emotions reside. In my paintings, I do not merely want to document my experiences, dreams and imagination through my paintings, but also utilise forces as another voice to express my identity, political opinions and others thoughts which I could hardly speak out loud in my real life.

Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting
Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting

How would you define yourself as an artist?

I define myself as a political artist who keeps a distance from political activity. I care about politics, but I wish to be an outsider of it like Walter Benjamin, which could give me a more precise view to observe it. My works, as I wrote in the last question, as another language for me to express my thoughts.

Absurd, dreams and fantasy. I guess I am proud of my every work, so there is no ‘proudest’. I wish to use my works to explore how everyday images could obtain a political allegory through absurd narrative and analyse how to produce a Chinese subjectivity under postcolonisation.

Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting
Artsted presents: Henzhi Gong — emerging artist from RCA, painting

Who are the artists you look up to?

-German Neo-expressionist painting: Daniel Richter, Jorg Immendorff, Markus Lüpertz… Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman, Peter Doig, Luc Tuymans… Fredric Jameson, Walter Benjamin, Craig Owens…

What memorable responses have you got from your works?

I think it is quite interesting to re-see some works of mine created when I started painting. At that time the theme of my works was ‘express myself’. The techniques inside are not good, but the expressions are strong, like there are some primitive impulses inside. I believe painting for me is not only a method, but a part of myself.

How being in isolation in 2020 has affected you related to the art practice?

I created several works about the pandemic in the beginning. However, the lockdown made my studio in the college closed, thus I could not make big paintings. In this vein, I bought an apple pencil to paint on the iPad, which worked really well. I guess this pandemic let the stubborn me, who had refused to do any digital art in the past, have a romance with the digital art, and in the future I wish to make more experiments on the iPad.

Why should the audience/collectors be interested in your works?

The narrative. Inside my painting, there always is a whimsical, absurd and black-humour narrative inside. The use of colour, composition and brushstroke. The subjectivity. Unlike some other Chinese political artists who take advantage of westerners’ ignorance of China and create an exotic evil country to satisfy their vanity and prejudice over an exotic third-world country, the expression inside my works has a Chinese subjectivity concerning about the fate of individuals in China instead of any grand narrative under post colonisation.

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