Artist wows with soy sauce

Updated: 2014-08-25 11:17

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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Soy sauce surely has an abundance of culinary applications, but painting with it is certainly not one of the condiment's primary uses.

Nonetheless, one Chinese painter said people would be surprised at soy sauce's potential use value in artistic applications.

"I don't know how many people use soy sauce for painting, but I don't think it's something a teacher would teach you at school," said Zhang Hongtu, a New York-based painter and installation artist. "Many media may be used before soy sauce, but I think it's fun because you can do anything with it."

"I try not to limit myself to what I learned in school - water color, oil, ink, charcoal, etc," Zhang said Saturday during an exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). "Soy sauce produces a very interesting final product because of its rich, dark color, especially when you boil it down to concentrate it."

While soy sauce gives Zhang a nice break from traditional paint, there are some issues it brings up on the back end of the process as it dries.

For instance, the salt content of soy sauce can be an issue in preservation if there is too much humidity where the painting is stored, he said. So a layer of resin is needed to help the final product set.

A soy sauce painting demonstration by Zhang for a group of 10 museumgoers on Saturday was complemented by a chat about the painter's influences and inspirations, and a discussion of some of his selected works.

Zhang was born in China's northwestern Gansu province in 1943 and attended art school in Beijing before immigrating to the United States in 1982.

Since then, Zhang has created a number of paintings, sculptures and mixed media installations that probe the relationship between Chinese tradition and Western modernity.

"I like to explore the boundaries between East and West in my art, and also the divisions between history and the present, elite culture versus mass culture, etc," he said.

Over the last three decades, Zhang's works have been displayed at a number of the world's top museums, including the Museum of Modern Art's PS1 Museum in Queens, the Guangdong Museum of Art and the Museo Picasso in Barcelona.

Some of the artist's more recent works, which he said focus on the juxtaposition of nature and the human condition, are now also on display as part of an ongoing exhibit at MOCA.

Oil & Water: Reinterpreting Ink, which juxtaposes the work of three contemporary Chinese artists - Zhang, Qiu Deshu and Wei Jia - has been on display since April 24 and runs through Sept 14.

Zhang, who said he is influenced by Chinese landscape painting, said visitors to MOCA would understand more about Chinese contemporary art after combing some of the museum's exhibits.

"I try to mix different feelings and meanings in my paintings and I feel the medium itself can be a part of the content," Zhang said.

"There are contradictions in my work, and there is not always total harmony," he said. "The mix of culture is one of the most important influences in my art, so I try to mix different feelings and meaning."

Artist wows with soy sauce

Zhang Hongtu (standing) displays some of his techniques for painting using soy sauce on Saturday at an event hosted by the Museum of Chinese in America in New York on Aug 23. Jack Freifelder / China Daily

(China Daily USA 08/25/2014 page2)