Outside The Lines

If packed First Fridays are any indication, Denver’s art scene is booming. Meet seven local artists who are dripping, collaging, and welding their way onto museum and gallery walls around the country.

September 2012

The Modernist

Xi Zhang

Like many people his age, 28-year-old Xi Zhang spends a lot of time on social media sites. Except he’s not updating his status: Zhang is collecting fodder for his paintings.

A blend of cultures—Zhang was born in China and moved to the United States with his family when he was 19—Zhang has long been interested in dualities: virtual versus real, East versus West, old versus new. His trippy paintings merge lifelike drawings of real people with abstract shapes and colors. And in exploring a very modern concept—social media—Zhang intentionally uses paint, one of art’s oldest mediums. “We are sharing ourselves on this social network platform,” he says. “This virtual space almost becomes a physical space. People have a psychedelic experience.”

Zhang scours social media sites to find pictures he can use as a template and often takes photographs himself while he’s out exploring. Sitting on a chair in his one-room workspace near West Eighth Avenue and Inca Street, Zhang pushes his shoulder-length black hair behind his ear, centers his glasses, and looks toward his inspiration photo, which is taped to the wall next to an empty canvas. An iPad sits off to the side on a stool. As he works, bits of his Chinese background emerge, like a symbolic patch that was given to top students when he was in elementary school. Even with the flamboyant colors, viewers can’t help but be drawn to the eyes in Zhang’s work. The eye, Zhang says, “symbolizes direct communication, identity, and soul” and represents the fact that we each see the world through our own lens. As colors merge and fade, creating a break in the subject’s true self and virtual self, the eyes follow you, begging you to see what they see.

5280.com Exclusive: Meet painter Xi Zhang.

Outside the Lines: A Conversation with Painter Xi Zhang from 5280 on Vimeo.