Zhenya Xia – Emerging Chinese Art Star Interview
BY GEORGE WAYNE
The acrylic on canvas medium takes on a thoroughly new form here! That was my first, precise personal thought as I perused the exuberant work of Zhenya Xia at the prime Chelsea gallery – HG Contemporary (527 West 23rd Street) earlier this Spring. This is, indeed, art d’vivre – if there ever is such a definition. Such is the draw and the evoked emotion. Her grasp of color, and the subtle yet resonant depth of her layers, her shapes, her diagonals is all crisp, unorthodox and very much original. Without question the artistic signature of this Zhejiang born Chinese artist will continue to gather the keen eye of the very smartest and most astute collectors of post-millennial contemporary art.
For instance, there is little denying the super nova interior designer now busily preparing the nursery for the arrival of the triplets of the creative force majeure Pharrell Williams and his wife Helen Lasichanh would go nuts for the work of Zhenya Xia, which would feel right at home in their new children’s quarters. Ditto, too, Beyonce and her expectant twins or even Amal & George Clooney where the work of Zhenya Xia would make the most joyous and perfect and exuberant addition.
Zhenya Xia’s story is much like her art: ”something unique that stands on its own,” as her gallerist Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim aptly put it. After growing up with the demands of a rigorous Chinese education that was followed by years of training in finance, Zhenya embraced a life-long yearning to produce art. When asked to paint her sub-conscious while a MBA graduate student in France as course study, she had a eureka moment and fully realized that painting was indeed her true calling. She left the world of finance and picked up her first canvas, easel, paint and brushes and has not looked back since.
Her distinct style – bright colors, dream like themes, mathematically balanced brushstrokes exude a certain innocent, child like, infantile purity that has all come to glorious with her recent highly successful and first solo show at the HG Contemporary Gallery at 527 West 23rd Street in New York City. (www.hgcontemporary.com). Zhenya’s work skillfully offsets her child like motifs with a calculated and highly schematic expression, which by applying her generous thick coats of textured strokes renders a certain depth which captures shape and light from any angle. There is sparkle, there is innocence (yes that word again), there is an unbridled self-confidence on display here.
And so on a recent early day in the throes of a blooming New York City spring the artist and her gallerist sat to speak and shared a few thoughts of her work, her first solo-show and her future expectation.
I have dubbed your work – Art d’Vivre!
ZHENYA XIA: A child’s world is a wonder land. I paint flowers because I want to be optimistic about our future. We are always very skeptical about the future but My work is about a bright joyful future.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: I saw one of her works at a dinner party and I found the work intriguing. The work was different and evoked a certain emotion like I have never experienced before so I had to meet her. I went to visit Zhenya at her studio in the Cayman Islands and had the opportunity to circumspect the full body of her work. Her high level of detail and perfection and her nuanced use of color was what drew my eye to her canvases. Every shape or rectangle seems perfectly fussed over, for want of a better word. I just find her work quite beautiful. How she asserts her particular take on joy and beauty is what has attracted me the most.
You have said that you were ”drawn to her calculated, clean lines.” But what is that one pitch you would give to a collector as to why owning, say, Zhenya Xia’s exuberant acrylic on canvas – Ice Cream Tutti Frutti – which is for sale at the eye-watering price of $45,000. That’s a lot of money to be asking for the work of a contemporary ingenue.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: I see very long term value here. Zhenya’s work cannot be compared to anyone else’s. She has a totally unique and one-of-a-kind signature and although that can sometime be a hard slog to sell. Zhenya is creating an entirely fresh and novel genre. There is no denying that a Zhenya Xia painting is immediately identifiable.
I see her work and my immediate response was a sense of joie de vivre. On first look the work seems almost infantile – that the substance and depth is not immediately apparent until further perusal. What was most profound and fascinating on further notice was the detailed, pain-staking ridges or ‘waves’ as I dub them.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: It takes a tremendous amount of time to complete any of her paintings. And I certainly believe that her work stands the test of time.
Zhenya tell George Wayne a bit of the process or you. How do you go about creating?
ZHENYA XIA: I first choose the subject which is usually an object. I find the abstract more interesting because that allows me to dream. I find that with that idea in mind that I can play with notions of color, to play with them, to be adventurous. I usually start with a sketch at first and then the color combination follows.
So the palette then is rather spontaneous.
ZHENYA XIA: Yes, very much so.
Where do you see yourself in three years?
ZHENYA XIA: I am just happy and inspired to be enjoying every step of my early career here. I am very happy to have the opportunity to be represented with one of the best and newest homes for contemporary art in New York City.
Astute art arbiters will concur that HG Contemporary is a must-stop on the Chelsea art circuit. And talk about location, location, location! Here it is right below the High Line on 23rd Street in the heart of millennial New York City modern art mecca. You should be, indeed, thrilled to have representation with Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim.
ZHENYA XIA: I am enjoying the process.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: Being able to be on 23rd Street has served us well at HG Contemporary. We are right in the middle, the very center of the action of one of the most important art cities in the world.
And, no doubt Zhenya, this moment and your very successful first solo show!
ZHENYA XIA: Philippe and I have a strategy for the future, a three year plan. I respect him and admire his take on the 21st Century art world experience.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: Is it okay for me to jump in? I think Zhenya is so focused and self-assured with what she wants to see her place in the modern day art world. She is a very pure artist. And what I admire is that certain purity and innocence. There is nothing calculated here. Her dream, her goal, is not about being rich and famous. She does this for the right reasons. And that most of all is sharing her message through her work. And she is well on her way to international acclaim, but that is not the raison d’etre. That said, we are very excited for her future.
ZHENYA XIA: I always tell myself just to keep the love and joy I have for creating my work and everything else will fall into place. Whatever will be…will be. Having, this, my first solo exhibition is a dream come true! As an emerging artist, we all dream of this moment.
Have you been happy with the reaction to your work?
ZHENYA XIA: Most definitely! There have been times when I sit in the gallery and the art lovers walk into the gallery, not realizing that I am the artist. And I have noticed that when they walk into the gallery that they just can’t stop smiling! They talk to themselves and they sometime talk to each other. But I always sense a certain contentment when they first see the work. And I like to believe that is the charm of my work. They don’t really have to say anything. They just see it and feel it. The message is already passed on.
Do you consider yourself zen Zhenya?
ZHENYA XIA: I am Chinese! So I always feel that I am zen. [Laughs]
When I see your fabulous work and especially my two favorite from this your first solo show – ”Ya” and ”Giraffe.” What immediately came to mind was the thought. Gee! If George & Amal Clooney were to walk into HG Contemporary today and see this work they would immediately want to have both pieces in the, no doubt, perfectly curated nursery of their English country manor to welcome their new twins! Your work is so perfect, so attuned and tailor-made for that sort of setting! Those two large canvases especially!
ZHENYA XIA: My work is both rational and emotional. And when you see ‘Ya’ you feel happy. There is a childish innocence to that particular work, so I can understand that feeling of yours.
PHILIPPE HOERLE-GUGGENHEIM: There is an intense amount of craft and effort that goes into her work. So though, it may seem to exude that innocent, child-like exuberance, there is a lot of hours and hours of toil there.
Leave it to the genius George Wayne to suggest yet another notion to seriously consider. I believe that you, Zhenya and your gallerist here, ought to seriously consider, down the road, diversifying the brand. I could easily see a line of wallpaper or ceramics, pottery created from your wonderful use of color…the quirky naivete of your work so lends itself to the idea of a line of wallpaper sold exclusively at Target. Talk about a cash cow for the brand Zhenya Xia!
ZHENYA XIA: I never thought of that, but I like the idea.
Just remember who told you and gave you the idea. It is now part of public record! Thank you Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim and thank you Zhenya Xia for this inspired tete-a-tete.
ZHENYA XIA: And you must come to the Cayman Islands and visit my studio!
George Wayne, Contributing Editor
Acclaimed New York-based style scribe George Wayne welcomed the opportunity to sit with New York’s influential downtown gallerist, Georges Bergès, to chat about his ‘platform for collectors.’ The Jamaican-born writer will have his ‘’quasi-memoir,’’ Anyone Who’s Anyone – The Astonishing Celebrity Interviews 1987-2016, published by HarperCollins in the Autumn of 2017.