Zhongwen Hu on how “Illustration is an answer and painting is a question”

10 June 2019

“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.


Zhongwen Hu: Boiling water


Zhongwen Hu: Summer No.3


Zhongwen Hu: Fruit Stand


Zhongwen Hu: Summer No.2


Zhongwen Hu: Hot Spring


Zhongwen Hu: Man with pigeons


Zhongwen Hu: Sea No.2


Zhongwen Hu: Kato with Gaudi


Zhongwen Hu: Gallery No. 1

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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