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Zhen Guo

Liubov Zinovieva, New York, , 2001

(Translated from the Russian by Christina Sperrle)



In 1999, Guo Zhen resolutely changed her manner of painting.  We knew her as one kind of artist, who was loved and easily recognized. Now we have another artist before us whom we only now discovered and are trying to understand.  The new artistic rebirth of Zhen Guo opened that depth, that enormous force of the artistic talent which was always present in her canvases, but which was veiled by her early romantic-decorative style (1987 – 1994).


The lovely celestial beings are far from all earthly, carnal and crude concerns, are so beautiful and refined that in themselves they represent Beauty and Feeling, a feeling sublime bright and most ennobled.  Their every movement and gesture are full of subtle meaning, of divine purity and harmony.  They are truthful in themselves: one can think of no better greeting from one woman to another than the one in “Greeting.” It seems that “Fall Delight” exudes precisely that smell of fusty maple leaves; and one wonders whether there is a more harmonic and lucid dance on earth than the one portrayed in “Moonlight in the Woods.”  One can endlessly delight in Guo’s paintings and each time experience them in a new way.


Then at once something happened to Guo’s heroines: they lost their regal stance, they no longer triumph over everything human, and they no longer posses their godly nature.  They became vulnerable, warm, small and very alive.  Their inner world changed, as if they suddenly fell down from their Olympian heights and struck the Earth.  This blow was so powerful that they began to scream from pain – the mute began to talk; the blind to see and the cold ones began to cry…


The Woman became a woman, earthly and vulnerable.  It seemed that, from that point on, the pain did not leave her. She crucifies herself, agonizingly strained she presents the world with a new human being. She gives birth to a child; she sits at the bed of her dying father; she has arrived at the dawn of her own life with her last friend—a photograph.  And then she has disappeared altogether – she is a drowned doll, looking up with a dead glance from the bottom of a swimming pool at the headless bodies of swimmers.


Guo’s canvasses represent the woman’s bared spiritual wounds.  To touch them is impossible and terrifying. To look at them is painful, but pain recedes before the light in which the mother lives with her child (“Baby”).  Against the background of the gloomy earthly foundation, against the floor which many past footsteps has darkened, we see a bathtub like a reflection of the sky in which there is absolute purity; the child and its beautiful mother.  In this purity they are alone, only the mother’s glance is slightly tense.  She, like Lot’s wife, is ready to look back to where her light is absent, where love and betrayal are closely linked, where sin and innocence, rise and fall, Heaven and Earth are locked together in one World.


In Guo’s still lifes the contradictory and complicated world of the human being is reflected less straightforwardly, but equally strangely and to a point of ingenious simplicity.


It seems that there is nothing simpler than two tea mugs, an old one and a new one!  But her “Mugs” draws the viewer towards the, and it is not in a manner of their symbolic meaning – Yesterday and Today (despite the fact that this symbolism is operating here) – the old mug is empty, but full of its past, it became time.  The new mug, the one that is full of the future, is in essence the exact same mug.  With their exquisite manner of execution, Guo’s “Mugs” are magnetically beautiful and clear. 


The same is true of all her still lifes.  There is nothing dead in them, nothing congealed:  the wilted roses exude the astringent smell of old age, the theatrical masks are asleep and preserve in themselves the faces of their actors.  However, most important, in these pictures there is the movement of the earth the movement of the sky.


When we admire the artist's work, we receive he mood, her understanding of time, her relationship with the world.  It seems to us that we already understand something about the artist because we were privileged to into her soul.  But then a new painting emerges and the artist’s style changes.  We discover fresh colors of her life and shades of her soul that seem different from what we had thought about this master.  But what are we able to know about her?  There is that which will remain unchangeable in us after our acquaintance with Zhen Guo’s paintings.  Yes, our dreams, our hopes are fragile and vulnerable, but our children, our creative works, just like the wonderful paintings of Zhen Guo, will remain with us and will exist forever.

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