ZHAO YAO, A painting of thought III-188a, 2014, acrylic on found fabric, 180 × 180 × 8 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Pace Gallery, Hong Kong. 

ZHAO YAOA painting of thought I-417, 2014, acrylic on found fabric, 180 × 180 × 8 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Pace Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Painting Of Thought

Zhao Yao

Pace Gallery

Pace Gallery is currently presenting Zhao Yao’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. The young artist is quickly gaining recognition as an important, emerging figure among the new generation of artists coming out of China. Zhao’s work has been featured in several group exhibitions—such as at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and Tate Modern in London—as well as solo shows, including “Spirit Above All” at Pace London in 2013. Born in 1981, in China’s Sichuan Province, Zhao transforms the relationship between art and the viewer through his work, challenging what many have been taught to think about contemporary art.

“Painting of Thought” is a selection of six pieces from Zhao’s ongoing project of the same title, which began in 2011. The vibrant, large-scale works are attention grabbing and make for an exciting viewing experience. His canvases rely solely on the audience for the meaning of their content. Extracting logic and cognitive models from various books, Zhao has produced an individual formula for creating his paintings. Through the artist’s perspective, the notion of the puzzle is exaggerated; his older works inform new ones, wherein various parts become rearranged. The optical-illusion-like, geometric outlines that Zhao uses to make the work, are replicated, enlarged and filled with color. They seem to void all cultural, social and political meanings that could be associated with art. There is no information here meant to alter the audience’s thoughts on the work, and its meaning is decided by each viewer’s background, religion and culture, as well as knowledge and experience with contemporary art.

When entering the white-walled space, the first piece that is across from the gallery’s door is A painting of thought III-188a (2014). This nearly two-meter-long piece comprises a grid of circles. A simple black, white and red formation is created from thick acrylic paint, which has been applied on a found piece of tartan fabric. The grid is outlined with a thick, black line, emphasizing each circle shape. The concept of using logic puzzles is clearly visible within the painting. There is a “line” that appears to be following a certain path, and each point it passes through seems to be marked as a black circle. There are two red circles that seem to represent start and finish markers, yet are never joined. As intended, this piece makes the audience wonder what the work is about, as well as the reasons and meaning behind it. Each conclusion could be different based on the various experiences among individual viewers.

One of the pieces nearest to the gallery’s entrance, A painting of thought I-417 (2014), stands out with its highly colorized pattern. The titles of Zhao’s work within this particular series sound mechanical and manufactured. There are no implications from the title to suggest meaning to the viewer. A painting of thought I-417 also incorporates a grid structure that is typical to math or logic puzzles. Rainbow colors within the grid do not seem to follow a pattern; they look as if they are placed in a disrupted gradient. There are squares within the grid that are also irregularly colored. The grey and brown found fabric behind the painting is in harmony with the tendency among younger Chinese artists to use readymades in their work. Reflective of Marcel Duchamp, the readymade represents the idea that the artist’s choosing of an object makes it an artwork.

“Painting of Thought” is a dynamic show that leaves the audience perplexed about its hidden artistic intent. With an emphasis on state of mind and experience, each piece is a real puzzle in itself, left for the audience to deduce the real meaning behind the paintings.

Zhao Yao’s “Painting of Thought” is on view at Pace Gallery, Hong Kong, until February 26, 2015.