PIFO Gallery is delighted to present the exhibition Zhang Lei: Floating Down a Nightly River. This exhibition provides a very first survey of Zhang Lei’s practice between 2010 and 2018. He is a young artist well-renowned for his skills in drawing and printmaking as well as the mystical and almost surreal expression of his art, which is sometimes reminiscent of Goya´s famous graphic suite “Los Desastres de la Guerra”, but also of configurations very much like Max Ernst´s surrealist drawings that are sometimes reaching into painterly abstraction.
Zhang Lei has been living on Jiang Xin Zhou, an island in the Yangzi River in Nanjing for seven years. During this time he has seen the huge transformation of the island, witnessed the destruction of homes and experienced the falling-apart of communities. All this had to give way to the construction of new developments and continues to live on as ghosts in the works by Zhang Lei.
Entering the stream of the artist´s massive exhibition of 173 drawings and prints the audience gets carried away by the current of the almost hallucinogenic imagery. What washes ashore are pictures of dark landscapes, buildings in ruins and of people in agony. Memories bubble back up from the waters, like an old jacket that fell into the waves and went under, only to be found downstream sticking on a branch close to the riverbank. The artist´s grandmother is holding a child. Nightmarish animals inhabit the dark nights and a funeral party keeps marching … such are the subjects of Zhang Lei´s works: Dark and dense and dreary, but of an emotional impact that is impossible to resist. He reminds us of a humanity that cannot be washed away by a new era, no matter how much water flows down the Yangzi.
Zhang Lei uses his craft quite skillfully on small format paintings, drawings and prints. Especially mesmerizing are his monotypes – fresh paint is applied onto a copper plate of which but a single print can be made – appearing in the reverse. The effect is almost like looking at the world from the other side of the mirror – a trope found very often in surrealist art and literature. Looking inward and discovering the secrets of our minds has been a revolution shredding bourgeois culture of the 19th century and paving the way for diverse practices in art and life.