Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Chicago – his first visit to the city – and the only city he toured other than Washington D.C. on his recent state visit to the United States. While primarily a business relations trip, a boon for outgoing Mayor Daley, the visit shed some light onto Chicago's international art scene as well.
Two collaborative artists, the Zhou brothers, completed a painting which honored the Chinese president 's visit. The painting features depictions 8 U.S. presidents since 1972 and the Great Wall of China.
Strong, yet delicate lines form colorful portraits of the U.S. presidents while a brown-hued outline of the Great Wall moves up from the bottom left of the canvas. The formidable wall leads the eye towards the center of the canvas, as well as to the mountainous shoulder of President Obama.
Amidst the natural colors, a thick, powerful black brushstroke lurches horizontally from the lower-left, moving centrally across the painting until it jerks back and terminates at the Obama form.
The painting is done on a large scale, 68 x 86 inches – a size which is not an accident. These numbers were chosen because they are considered to be lucky in Chinese culture.
In a recent White House interview posted on whitehouse.gov, the Zhou brothers explain that the painting highlights the relationship between China and the United States – the Great Wall is a symbol of China's 5,000 year history and is juxtaposed with the youthful energy of America.
The Zhou brothers themselves were successful artists in China until 1986 when they received an invitation to exhibit their work at the East-West Contemporary Art Gallery in Chicago. On their web site, zhoub.com, the artists describe the invitation as a "timely opportunity to make the transition onto an international stage." The brothers have lived in Chicago ever since, and maintain a studio in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.
Their work in includes large scale paintings and sculptures, predominately abstract pieces that incorporate calligraphic forms through mixed media.
The Zhou brother's commission – a politically cheerful piece (with the possible exception of the dark, cutting brushstroke) – is a gleaming badge for Daley's successful bid to court Chinese business on behalf of Chicago – with broader implications for U.S. Chinese relations overall.
Zhou, Shan and DaHuang. Zhou Brothers Biography. http://zhoub.com
Modi, Kalpen. Behind-the-Scenes Video: President Barack Obama's Gift to President Hu Jintao of China. White House Blog, whitehouse.gov