His 2001 painting The Last Supper has just sold for US$23 million (Dh84.5m), but growing up in a working-class family during China’s Cultural Revolution, Zeng Fanzhi could never have anticipated the path his life would take.
“The notion of the artist didn’t exist,” he said. “We were art workers. We didn’t know that we could be free and independent,” said Zeng, in Paris for a retrospective of his works.
Based on Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, Zeng’s Last Supper – part of the Paris show – set a new record for a contemporary Chinese artist when it was sold at auction in Hong Kong on October 5.
Born in 1964 in Wuhan in Hubei province, Zeng is currently the subject of a show at Paris’s Museum of Modern Art featuring around 40 of his works dating back to 1990.
“It’s the first time in my life that so many of my works have been brought together … It’s very important to me,” he said, through an interpreter.
Zeng is currently ranked the fourth highest-selling contemporary artist, in terms of auction turnover, according to art data firm Artprice. His sales in 2012/13 reached $34.3m. Such success is a far cry from his days as a student at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts. “In the place where I was living, there were no toilets, so I had to go to the neighbouring hospital several times a day,” he said.
His current work uses a technique he adopted in the middle of the last decade, in which blurred lines are employed to depict landscapes.
“Before painting a big canvas, I prepare for several days in order to attain a state of calm and serenity. Then I paint fast, in an intense way,” he said.