Zeng Fanzhi was born in Wuhan in Hubei in 1964 to parents who worked at a printing factory. He dropped out of school at 16 and took a job at the factory with his parents. But he found refuge in drawing, taking formal painting lessons in his spare time.
“I was always a bad student; I refused to let people force me to study things I wasn’t interested in and I was only really interested in drawing and painting,” he told the Financial Times.
Why is he famous?
Zeng’s early work was bleak and he often painted slabs of meat as if they were human characters, inspired by a butcher’s shop and a hospital near where he lived. But it is the Mask series, which he started in 1994, that is considered Zeng’s most important work to date, chronicling the sense of social dislocation felt by many of China’s city dwellers in the 1990s.
One painting, Mask Series 1996 No. 6, sold for $9.7 million in May 2008 at Christie’s in Hong Kong, making Zeng the then most expensive living artist in Asia and the biggest name in modern Chinese art (his record was eclipsed in 2011 by the sale of an 1988 work by Zhang Xiaogang). According to Artron, an industry website, Zeng has auctioned off more than 450 pieces, fetching Rmb1.5 billion ($245 million).
Why is he in the news?
Auction figures for the year to June showed that Zeng again topped the charts with the highest prices for contemporary art. During that time he sold three paintings, earning $7.5 million.
That’s good news for Sotheby’s, which is offering Zeng’s The Last Supper for sale in Hong Kong next month (pictured below). The 4-metre-long canvas, inspired by the masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, is valued at $10.3 million, says Information Daily. Sold at that price, it would surpass Zeng’s record for Mask Series No 6. The picture, painted in 2001, is said to reflect a modern society in which appearances can often be deceiving. The disciples have been replaced with members of the Chinese Communist Party. Judas wears a yellow tie, a symbol of money and, by extension, Western capitalism, art critics say.
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