Zhongwen Hu finds her approach to painting a unique form of art therapy. And she hopes her work will offer viewers a sense of catharsis and being in the moment, too.
After the year we’ve had, we could all do with a bit of peace and tranquillity. And you’ll get an instant hit of that the moment you glance at the work of Zhongwen Hu.
The Shanghai-based painter, illustrator, and animator is known for creating scenes of positive energy that spring from the seemingly mundane motions of everyday life. This work, imbued with emotional sensitivity, can be found in art galleries, books and commercial products.
Zhongwen’s work has been exhibited in multiple cities across China, the United States and the UK. And her latest instalment in her series, Day Tripper (2020-2023) , has gone right up our flagpole. We chatted to the artist to learn more about the thinking behind it.
“I was inspired by an idea called ‘Walking meditation’, that is, to discard the distractions of thought and embrace the unbridled sensations of objects and our surroundings,” says Zhongwen. “At the same time, since time does not, in some ways, exist, the past and future only exist in the mind, so the only moment that can be experienced is the present.
“Such a fixation on the present can help to extricate thought and judgement, a state of mind that I believe is a gateway to self-healing,” she continues.
Zhongwen reveals that most of her work is inspired by real people she’s met during the course of her life. “I love ground-connecting and observing human activities in a relaxing state,” she explains. “I take lots of pictures whenever I see a moment that I find touching, and I will make a couple of sketches, too. I’ll emphasise one or two key points in the image and experiment with exaggeration on them.”
Beyond this process and general themes, she’s unsure she has a specific style. “But when I paint, I always think of expressionism,” she says. “I like paying more attention to emotional experience than physical reality.”
Indeed, for a long time, she’s found making art an intensely emotional experience. “I used to paint a lot about surrealism, memories and consciousness stuff,” she recalls. “The emotions were so intense that I had to make them into paintings. Every time I finished, I felt so relieved. My thought was that if I could heal myself, viewers could have similar experiences, and their raised emotions could be mollified too.”
“That became a turning point for me to explore my way of artistic therapy,” she continues. “So I started to read a lot of spiritual books; one of them was talking about walking meditation. And I discovered that painting could also be a way of walking meditation.
“Now I understood why I was so relieved by doing it. I hope my work can also be an entry point for viewers to be present and experience catharsis. They will realise anything they need is not ‘nowhere’ but ‘now here’.”