“Painting is still a new toy for me” explains the illustrator Zhongwen Hu, but you would never think it after witnessing her beautifully cinematic works. Raised in Shanghai and after studying graphic design at Shanghai university, Zhongwen never thought she would become a painter until her time at grad school majoring in illustration at New York’s Syracuse University.
While studying graphic design, Zhongwen recalls the feeling that it wasn’t the right path for her as she “needed more self-expression in the work.” Traveling to the US to further develop her sense of visual communication through images, it was at Syracuse where the artist first became interested in critical thinking and philosophy; themes that would gradually make their way through her works. She tells It’s Nice That: “These new classes helped a lot in digging deep into the background of stories and ideas, helping my personal growth as an artist and my critical thinking.”
Subconscious feelings and existential questions rose to the forefront of Zhongwen’s works and it was then that the Beijing-based artist realised her illustrations are in fact more like paintings. She combines montages of life events and imagined situations into one image, basing each painting on a core emotion which simultaneously acts as a form of narrative. “I think illustration solves clients’ problems while paintings solve the creators’ problems” adds the artist. While illustrators develop a visual language that quickly communicates an idea or story, conversely, “painting requires people to slow down” as it can take hours and hours to read one painting.
“Illustration is an answer and painting is a question” she says on the matter. “Both are challenging and rewarding and I get different pleasures from different works.” As she continues to research and expand her portfolio, Zhongwen notes: “I find the most impressive memories always go along with trauma.” Confronting, and to some extent, healing her trauma through the cathartic act of painting, the artist’s paintings become an act of restoration and in turn, “quite surreal.”
Asking herself questions such as “What are we if we don’t have labels? What makes us us?” Her paintings are charged with existential queries, leading the artist to depict scenes which may seem like insignificant everyday activities, but are in fact full of heartfelt touches which everyone can relate to.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.