A gifted painter since childhood, Tang Zhigang grew up in a military family in Yunnan Province, spending several years of his childhood living in the shadow of the Kunyang Labour Farm where his mother was a warden. Tang joined the PLA army directly after graduating from high school; as a career soldier he continued to paint and became known for his expressionistic and bluntly honest portraits of a soldier’s life. In 1979 his battalion was among the forces sent to Vietnam for combat action in the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. In the late 1980s Tang entered the oil painting department of the PLA Art Academy in Beijing and began to explore a new language of visual iconography, drawn from personal and collective experience, of the chaos of everyday life lived within an overarching framework of military ideologyand political controls. By the late 1990s Tang had created his iconic Children in Meeting series, masterfully painted and ostensibly humorous scenarios of children dressed up as adult soldiers and political leaders and acting out the serious business of closed-door meetings and political conferences.Read More
In 2008, at the height of his popularity and success as an artist, Tang largely withdrew from public life and entered a period of introspection and experimentation, focusing both on his teaching at the Yunnan Art Institute and on developing a deeper understanding of his own life experiences, particularly his childhood in Yunnan. In his WorldPlay series being presented at Hanart TZ Gallery, Tang is showing for the first time his new paintings created over the last three years: in many of these works Tang continues to use child-like figures as avatars, but he has undertaken a dramatic change in both his painting language and content: rather than the control and precision of his Children in Meeting series, in the new works Tang’s brushwork is freer and the colours more muted. The main change has been in the internal narrative of the works: rather than stylized iconographic figures in formally arranged settings, the children (and other figures) in these works appear to have emerged fluidly and directly from Tang’s own dreams or memories, like snatches of once remembered songs or lines from a poem, infused with an intensely emotional honesty.