Zhongwen Hu’s nature-filled paintings are here to show us how to be present
Inspired by the “self-healing” tools found in walking meditation, the artist documents and draws people she sees along the way, and the result is an offering that can inspire our journeys too.
Zhongwen Hu’s artworks have always had a wistful air. In one of her older paintings, a man pensively smokes a cigarette; in another, women dip their toes in a pool while staring at their reflections (or just the beauty of the water); elsewhere a stallholder leans back in his chair, seemingly questioning the point of it all. Today, her work evokes this atmosphere through the motif of nature, with lone subjects or groups in an almost meditative state, surrounded by trees and water.
For Zhongwen, drawing has always been a “natural-born thing,” causing her parents to send her to a kindergarten school that taught specialised art courses. Since then, she has of course developed her keen eye and familiarity with materials – acrylic paint and pastel, in particular – yet her work isn’t completely divorced from a playful and explorative approach to representing people and nature. Every painting seems to present a bond – no man or woman is alone (even when they are), reminiscent of the innocent outlook we have of people, the environment and communities as children.
With most of her work being about this interaction between humans and nature, Zhongwen was inspired by the idea of “walking meditation,” a practice stemming from Buddhism that encourages us to discard the distractions of thought and embrace the beauty of the present moment, and our feet and the ground connecting. Zhongwen observes these moments herself whilst outside on walks, before taking photos and doing a couple sketches for reference, all with the aim that she can pass a certain feeling on to her audience. “In some ways, time doesn’t really exist: the past and future only exist in the mind, so the only moment is the present,” she tells us. “Fixating on the present can help to extricate thought and judgement, a state of mind that I believe is a gateway to self-healing,” she says, “and I hope my viewers have similar experiences too.”
Zhongwen believes that at this stage of her journey, obsession over style is futile. But we can all see a consistent quality, which is perhaps a result of her perspective. “Any style should come as a result of intention, instead of a goal set in advance,” she says. In valuing visceral depictions that send a message to her audience, she sometimes finds it difficult to capture the spirituality beneath many of these scenes she sees, “especially when it comes to objects or fields”. She adds: “It’s even harder when I want to convey an abstract feeling, while wanting it to be interpreted by people who view my work.”
Zhongwen’s work has a way of immediately putting you at peace and ease, from the moment you set your eyes on it until the second you turn away and beyond that moment as well. Still, working on her ongoing Day Tripper series, trying to develop more works about the notion of time, she longs to create a larger collection to submit to exhibitions and open calls. And while we wait to see what the future holds, we continue to be bowled over by the transfer of tranquillity that her process creates – from scenes in nature to her canvas and eventually to us.
Zhongwen Hu: Deep Breathing (Copyright © Zhongwen Hu, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.