Across the Banks

It has been a long trip for the Zhou Brothers, who relocated to Chicago from China in the mid-1980s. They find a respite from that journey in their most recent work, “Li–The River of Souls” at the Zhou B Art Center–a riveting collection awash in a palette of cool colors.

Born in southern China in the 1950s, Shan and DaHuang Zhou quickly rose to prominence in the Chinese art scene in the eighties. In an era of increasing political turmoil, they relocated to Chicago in 1986.  Since then, the Zhou brothers have exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe, and have garnered acclaim and numerous awards, including the prestigious Prize of the Heitland Foundation in 1996.  In 2007, they returned to China for a thirty-year retrospective at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

With this series of paintings, the brothers again return to China, except this time solely in painting form.  The works in the show aim to revisit the artists’ youth along the Li River, which runs through China’s southern region of Guangxi. The river’s iconic scenery has provided artistic inspiration for more than two thousand years. For the Zhou brothers, “Li-River of the Souls” serves not only as a retrospective on this ancient history but also on their personal history.

The journey taken by the artists, portrayed in these paintings, wholly belongs to neither brother. As with most of their artwork, each piece is a collaborative effort between the two, as they work simultaneously on the same canvas. Through this process the brothers attempt to create what they call a “dream dialogue” between themselves. As the two brothers work in silence, they embark on an artistic journey through what becomes their joint imagination.

Indeed, many of the paintings possess a dream-like quality, splashed with bold areas of color and haphazard strokes.  In each piece, red and black stripes erratically trace out paths that at times appear anthropomorphic, and at others appear to develop more features of the landscape. [1]  In some of the works, paint strokes combine serenely to create distinct scenes of the Li River, almost always with rounded mountaintops reflected across the turquoise blue of the river. As the series progresses, the strokes become more chaotic. Amorphous shapes of color spread over each other, no longer confined by the representational boundaries, to occupy large areas of the canvas. In these paintings the apex of the dream journey is entered: any semblance of reality disappears, leaving only the imaginative impressions of the landscape that the Zhou brothers have captured.  With such a departure, the artists complete their journey through their history along the Li River.

A captivatingly beautiful series of paintings, Li-The River of Souls is a heartfelt look at a familiar landscape through the eyes of two individuals who combine their talents to create a unique experience at once intimate and reflective. From the personal history of the Zhou brothers along the Li River to the ancient tradition of art surrounding this landscape, this series of paintings explores history through a decidedly contemporary lens.  With this exhibit, the tradition of art-making inspired by the Li River is pushed one step further into the future.

Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St. Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. (773)523-0200. zhoubartcenter.com