Press / News Features
Throughout his career, Xiang’s work has been featured in numerous Western trade magazines, books, and has exhibited at prominent art sales throughout the West. Here are a few highlights of his work along with artist interviews in notable publications. For Press and related inquiries, feel free to contact Xiang directly.
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It may seem unlikely that someone who grew up in the Sichuan province of China and moved to the United States as an adult has become a full-time artist who creates incredibly vivid, historically accurate and drama-filled Western paintings. But perhaps it was destiny. Zhang, who now makes his home in McKinney, Texas, was born in the year of the horse, and his infatuation with the animal started at a young age.
While Zhang continues to paint dancers, portraits, and the like for his figurative work he discovered his true artistic calling while sitting on fence railings and photographing (and later painting) Texas ranch hands at work For years he's depicted the drama and dusty action of roundups, roping, bran ding, and cattle drives, portraying contemporary cowboys while excluding references to modern paraphernalia like pickup trucks.
Zhang deftly combines impressionism and realism in the Russian and Chinese traditions, even as he reminds some viewers of the early 20th century Spanish master Joaquín Sorolla or the European- trained Americans who created the Taos Society of Artists around the same time. The hallmarks shared by these traditions include the strong color and bravura brushwork seen in Zhang’s Longhorns in Palo Duro, a skilled weaving together of landscape, plein air, and figure painting that gradually leads our eye back toward the horizon above a seemingly never-ending arc of cattle.
Known for his dramatic, action-packed oil paintings, Xiang Zhang varies slightly in subject matter with Arriving Fort Worth, a new concept for the artist. Measuring 50 by 82 inches, the impressive historical painting took eight months to complete and is the cornerstone of Zhang's latest body of work on view at Southwest Gallery. "I like doing large pieces because I like doing the faces of cowboys and showing their facial features and character," he says. Zhang's works for this solo show are not only larger but contain more historical elements and more detail. Set in the late 1880s to early 1900s, the award-winning artist pays close attention to the architecture, accuracy of the costumes and the facial features of his subjects.
Zhang talks thoughtfully about his past, his present, and his future. His life has been like a mixing of the paints, with color, composition, and imagery all coming together for a good story. But to Zhang, the best is yet to come. He has cut back on his gallery work to give his wrist a rest, but in his mind, he still creates, always aspiring to paint bigger, bolder and better. “Since I am almost 60, I am putting more pressure on myself,” Zhang says. “I want to do my dream paintings. I want to make them larger and put all my imagination into them. I want to paint what I see in life and combine it with the images I see in my mind. I don’t want to do paintings that just decorate a house; they have to carry a story.”
Texas Traditions: Contemporary Artists of the Lone Star State (2010)
Texas Traditions brings together both historic and contemporary artists, showcasing their work in more than 200 images as colorful as the men and women who created them. Michael Duty, who selected the artists, authors a lead essay on historic Texas artists from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries. Susan Hallsten McGarry interviews the artists whose paintings and sculptures pay homage today to the Texas ethos and reveal artistic influences that compel each artist toward his or her unique style and voice.
Fresh on the heels of his successful debut at the 2009 Prix de West, artist Xiang Zhang feverishly finishes several new large oil paintings for his solo show in August at McLarry Fine Art in Santa Fe. Zhang's style remains consistent in these works, with emphasis on strong loose brushstrokes and strong color contrast. Zhang gains reference material for his paintings by touring homesteads in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Based on his observations, yet guided by his imagination, Zhang combines impressionistic and realistic techniques to tell the story of the West, always mindful to keep his images free of clutter.
Over the past six years, Zhang has earned considerable praise from the art world for his portrayal of the cowboy. As Zhang’s recognition and following are expanding, so too are his canvases. Off a country road west of Sherman, TX, in a studio built alongside his house on his ranch, Zhang is working on two huge canvases depicting the Oklahoma Land Rush. The horses thunder across the prairie, riders leaning forward in the stirrups, straining to see through the dust generated by thousands of animals, men and wagons, as the story of a rush to opportunity unfolds on the canvas.
Xiang Zhang - Book of Artwork (Aug 2007)
Award-winning Western artist Xiang Zhang presents the West as it once was, and as it is now, in richly authentic oil paintings. This beautifully designed collection of Xiang’s pieces not only allows the reader to experience the vivid and action-packed American West, but it also gives a glimpse into his extensive work in portraits and figurative subjects where his unique blend of realism and impressionistic styles shine through.
I needed to stay there for several days with them and watch their everyday life," says Zhang. "I would go to the chuck wagon to have breakfast with the cowboys at 4:30 a.m. We ate together and I went through their day. I got to know the changes in their lives, and they would tell me about their parents, the older generation of cowboy's. This is my study. I always love to focus on people, whether they are cowboys, portraits or ballerinas. Cowboys are people plus horses." Zhang now lives on a ranch next to cowboys. "My neighbor has horses," says Zhang, "so when I step out out of my studio to take a break, I whistle and the horses come to me."
Xiang sent his portfolio to a half dozen graduate design programs in the United States. "Design was much more advanced there," he explains. "If I wanted to learn more, that was where I had to go." The universities’ admissions departments were rather stunned by the sheer artistry of his portfolio. Fine art wasn’t stressed in U.S. set design programs, but they knew talent when they saw it. He was accepted into every program. But only Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, offered him a full scholarship. He accepted and, with little sense of what he was getting into, embarked for America.
Zhang approaches each day and each canvas with renewed enthusiasm, and the rich contrast in his colors shows a depth of feeling and mood. "In my painting, I take the images from life, but I might change the color to show what I am thinking at that time," he says. "It's not always realistic from life because, as artists, we paint what we see with a feeling combined from experience and thinking, not just a copy of what's in front of us. Our techniques change. We keep going because there is excitement and always something new to discover and explore."
Western Traditions: Contemporary Artists of the American west (2005)
By Michael Duty and Suzanne Deats. Western Traditions is a book on the art of the American West, an art that attracts not only great artists but passionate collectors, not only nostalgia buffs who revel in the history of the frontier but pragmatists who know the life of the working cowboy is a solid reality in today's ranching industry. Featuring more than fifty celebrated painters and sculptors, Western Traditions paints a broad picture of this fine art category, showing where it has been, where it is now, and where it is going.
"I believe my work is different from other western painters because of my training in theater," he observes. "When I paint a scene, I stage it as if it were real life, using dramatic compositions, exaggerated lighting, and people who appear to breathe. I don't freeze a moment on canvas; rather I want to convey the feeling of openness and air and of people and animals on the move." A versatile artist whose work is in great demand, Xiang Zhang enjoys working large. "I've got ideas for an 82-inch stretcher bar in my studio," he comments. "I'm just waiting to find the time to do it." When he does, one can rest assured Zhang will fill the canvas with rich, luminous color, energetic movement, powerful brushwork, and a breath of air that brings his cowboys and horses to life.
A Collection of Portraits (2004)
By Portrait Brokers of America. A carefully curated collection of beautiful portraits presented and selected by portrait artists from across the United States.
"Zhang’s central goal of capturing the core essences of life is evident in the treatment of his early landscapes and still life images, which display a great talent for portraying strikingly original figures, particularly when combined with his long study of Western traditional painting techniques. Says Zhang, "It's like a new discovery whenever I start a painting. I always try to give each painting its own personality and soul by employing a variety of techniques."
Cowboys and horses seem an unlikely choice of subject matter for a Chinese-born painter. But Xiang Zhang says he has a reverence for the horse that transcends genre. Born, fittingly, in the Year of the Horse, Zhang calls his appreciation genetic. "I always laugh when they tell me that visitors at the gallery sometimes ask the question 'Why does a Chinese guy paint cowboys so well when he comes from a different culture?' They forget that we have horses, too, and we have cowboys in Mongolia, though our cowboys ride a smaller horse with a bigger head.
Bold colors and heavy brush strokes fill the canvas. The artist works steadily, painting from his heart and mind: seasoned cowboys in denim and leather, wide Texas skies, broad-flanked cow ponies with sweat glistening from their sides. And cattle, lots of cattle. It's a world Xiang Zhang savors. For the past two years, he's immersed himself in a crash course in "cowboy-ology," painting the Southwest cattle-ranching scene.