The paintings of Zheng Mengqiang conjure several different influences and traditions. Many of his paintings are directly inspired by the great painters and film director of the past – Balthus, Eisenstein, Renoir etc – and look at once familiar to the viewer. Others are more directly linked to illustration and to the aesthetic of reviews and illustrations from the 1950’s and 1960’s; in this respect he can be linked to a particular strand of American artists like Alex Katz and Edward Hopper that have drawn their inspiration from the same sources. Yet it is the unlikely combination of both these threads that give his production such a unique feel.
In Zheng Mengqiang’s paintings, the audience doesn’t get to see the pivotal moment of a story but rather its peaceful denouement. It is not what comes next that is suggested in the painting, but rather what has been going on before. The paintings show the conclusion of a narrative, not its unfolding. The works are therefore closely linked to memory and the past. They seem thoroughly introspective and meditative, in contrast with those painters who want to pack as much details as possible into a single work. In Zheng Mengqiang’s case, the paintings are almost monochromatic, just like vintage photographs in which the intensity of colors has gradually faded to blend elements together.
Another unique feature of Zheng’s artistic practice is the liberty taken with the proportion of human figures, who are in turn elongated and slimmed out to blend more smoothly with their surroundings. This has the effect of presenting a uniform image, one where each and every element is created to produce the same impression: calm, tranquility, longing or sensuality. The artist aims to create a harmonious picture, not one where the parts are conflicting amongst one another.
The artistic practice of Zheng Mengqiang relies solely on a limited palette of muted and pastel colors. This allows him to blend elements more easily into each other, but also the nuance the emotional effect produced by each work. The eye of the spectator is not attracted to a particular piece of the painting, but on the contrary it embraces the painting as a whole before inspecting each detail in turn, thereby creating a meditative aspect within the experience.