Art of healing, healing of art
Zhang Yanzi's artworks (from left): Antibodies 3 (2016), Night Blossom (2016) and Annihilations (2014) Provided to China Daily
Recognized in her youth for her artistic talents, Zhang dedicated herself to mastering the skills of classical painting and calligraphy.
She started to learn portrait painting in wash and ink at Beijing Normal University, and after years of practice, eventually began to create outstanding work.
In 2000, Zhang's husband became ill, and in the following years, she lost both parents in quick succession, which brought her profound sorrow. She has been thinking deeply about matters of art and life ever since.
In 2007, Zhang earned a master's degree in painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
"Around 2010, I felt contemporary art was having a huge impact in China. Even though I knew wash and ink painting was great, classic, I didn't want to do repetitive work anymore," she said. "If I did anything creative just for the purpose of creation, it seemed too intentional."
Zhang had a revelation one day when she casually depicted in ink some cold capsules scattered on her desk.
"Usually, the subject matter for Chinese ink painting are flowers, birds, fish, insects or landscapes, all natural things," she explained. "So I felt there was a collision between wash and ink painting as the traditional art technique and the capsules as the products of modern civilization, which was interesting."
Gradually, Zhang grew obsessed with depicting medical-related subjects - syringes, pills, stethoscopes and scalpels - with her brush.
And gauze and bandages replaced paper after she tried depicting an image of Buddha on an analgesic plaster.
"After I finished, I suddenly experienced the subtle similarity between medicine as a physical remedy and religion as spiritual remedy," she said. "It moved me so deeply I could barely speak."
Zhang recalled that at a solo exhibition in 2013, a visitor who was seriously ill came to talk to her.
"She said when she looked at my paintings, she had a great feeling of happiness, which even made her forget her illness and feel peace and tranquility both in mind and body," Zhang said.
"I suddenly realized that art really can calm people's minds and affect them strongly," she added.
Sanctuary (left, ink on analgesic plasters, 2016) and Scar (ink on gauze bandages, 2016) by Zhang Yanzi are on display at Volta NY 2017 in New York. Hong Xiao / China Daily
Chinese poet Bei Dao described Zhang's work as representing "a subtle balance between art and healing".
"[Her work] elevates medical metaphors to the level of religious rescue, this stroke of genius completely proves daily eternity, which is an attempt to declare her true intention," wrote painter and art critic Xu Lei.
"Readymade applications in modern art are a completely new invention, but very few Chinese artists have such an expression in their faith system, accurate, touching, indescribably wonderful," wrote Xu.
Zhang believes that humans were born to suffer pain. "From the body to the spirit, we always have confusion, and we need a remedy for it all," she said.
Zhang currently serves as the editor-in-chief of CAFA ART INFO at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.