The Zhou Brothers, a legacy and a Way

Amidst harmony and conflict emerges the work of the Zhou Brothers. ShanZou and DaHuang are celebrated Chinese artists hailed for their contemporary paintings, sculptures, and performances. Since their arrival to Bridgeport in 1986, they have had an indelible effect on the art community of Chicago. On October 16, 2015, we were reminded to celebrate this fact.

On the first frosty evening of October, a crowd gathered at the Zhou B Art Center to commemorate the Zhou Brothers day of Illinois. A marching band, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Alderman Patrick Thompson and Commissioner John Daley greeted the crowd with words of kindness and gratitude for the artists. A Chinese General looked on with ShanZou and DaHuang as they bestowed the brown street signs to each of the brothers. Both sharply dressed in black hats and tweed jackets, the artists happily held up Zhou Brothers Way signs before cutting the historic red ribbon alongside the honored guests. This pomp and circumstance was only the beginning of a night filled with live music and performances. In conjunction with Third Friday events and Chicago Artist’s Month, first floor galleries of the Zhou B Arts center were open to the public and artists whose workplaces were in the building also opened their doors to visitors celebrating the historic evening.

Among many of the exciting artworks present on this Third Friday, the Zhou Brothers shared their inspired new painting, “The Water Lily Pond of Life.” This piece, much like their oeuvre, depicts open minded philosophes and lyrical abstractions. The pond extends willfully along the wall with strikes of red, black, and white across it. In a matte grey frame sliced in the middle to allow for installation, the work harkens back to Claude Monet and his images of water lilies. The difference between the artists lies in the cohesive compositions created by two sets of hands. As you move from panel to panel the brother’s individual signatures blend together allowing a chorus of frantic action and careful movement.

The frottage, thick yellows, and strikes of red color in other works inhabiting the space buzz with kinetic conflict. The action involved within these paintings is palpable as they remind the viewer of the Zhou Brothers painting performance in 2009. Enacted at the Chicago Cultural Center, “Ecstasy of Gold” was created in front of a live audience below the Tiffany domes. Dressed in respective red and white suits, their performativity allowed us to become enveloped in their movements, their style, and their application. The Zhou Brothers seemed to dance, performing an unspoken agreement and poetic understanding of the task at hand.

Performance Documentation

The accomplished Zhou Brothers use philosophical notions and organic imagination akin to a stream of consciousness to create many of their works. “The Water Lily Pond of Life” is no exception. There is solace in their backgrounds. There is harmony in the movement of their abstract figures and strokes. As ShanZuo once said, “The conflict is to make the work more mysterious. You don’t know why. The most important thing for art is not to explain the situation, or explain the feeling. It is to create a [work] that asks, ‘Why?'”

As neighbors to the Frame Shop, we wish The Zhou Brothers continued success as they positively influence our community. Their work inspires and the Zhou B Arts center encourages fledgling artists to do the same. As the mayor stated in his speech that evening, Chicago is a city who patiently awaits the progress and success of its citizens. Residing in a building off Zhou Brothers way, we look forward to seeing these already renowned artists continue to challenge us as together find a meeting place between harmony and conflict.

-Colleen Keihm

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