Vivien Zhang


London-based artist Vivien Zhang (B. 1990, Beijing) is a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art (London). Having lived in China, Kenya, Thailand and now the UK, Zhang manifests through her work intersections between abstraction and geographical displacement. Her work challenges recognition and mis-recognition, presence and absence, and the authority of the artist in visual appropriation. In her paintings, repetitive, excessive, self-referential grounds are built and subsequently interrupted by context-specific motifs. The motifs are often objects of personal significance and traces from contemporary culture. Examples include African furniture made from pirate ships that occupied her childhood home, mass-produced moulds for manufacturing ceramics in Vietnamese villages, masking tape, the aluminium foil, and shapes attributed to specific colours by Swiss artist Johannes Itten.

Zhang was shortlisted for the East London Painting Prize 2015 and  Saatchi New Sensations 2014. She has recently completed a collaborative design for Drake’s (London), and a large-scale site-specific commission for Riverlight – a St James project in the Nine Elms regeneration area, London. Earlier this year her work was exhibited in Hong Kong for the first time, and she is currently undertaking the Chadwell Award artist’s residency. Zhang’s work has also been exhibited in London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Busan, and is in the Royal College of Art collection, as well as private collections across Europe, the US, Brazil, China and Korea.

Contemporary Art Society Art Consultancy recently purchased Zhang’s work for Aspen’s London art collection.


Through the construction of self-perpetual systems and interrupting the systems with context-specific motifs, my work examines the idea of repetition, the “excessive” and authority, in relation to thinking about painting as a site for assemblage (instead of where an image may be represented) and the power of the artist in visual appropriation today.

Having moved to Nairobi and Bangkok from my hometown Beijing at the age of ten, and now living in London, I challenge through my work what may be recognized and mis-recognised within fields of modulating motifs, so to resist assumptions of the unknown that is outside presence. Propelled by an increasing personal uncertainty with the sense of place, the social phenomenon of a heightened emphasis of the “self”, and the power of the artist in appropriating and exploiting visual references, I began setting up a self-referential literalness in my work.

In this, earlier gestures metamorphose to inform and develop into new forms. This self-perpetual system becomes the formulaic ground in my working process that awaits an intervention or interruption ­­– repetition followed by eruptions, intersecting drives of gestures, and acceleration within stutters.

The interruptions often take in the form of personal objects of significance and references employed from the recesses of cultural history, as well as traces of contemporary culture. Examples include African jugs made from old pirate ships that occupied my childhood home, shapes attributed to specific colours by Swiss artist Johannes Itten, and mass produced moulds for large-scale manufacturing of ceramics.

My work aims to look at space no longer just from an illusionistic point of view, but also in terms of “difference” and how order and repetition generate space (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition). Hence, the systems and motifs in my work, manifested on shifting hierarchies, confront expectations and anticipations arising from the repetitive system. And with the motifs’ cultural and context-specificity, I challenge what may be recognised and misrecognised in a work of art; how permission and authority stand in contemporary artistic practice; presence and absence; and the re-organisation of painter-painting and artwork-audience relationships today.

– Vivien Zhang, 2015