Zeng Fanzhi: The master of reinvention who paints from the soul

Updated 2nd December 2016
Zeng Fanzhi: The master of reinvention who paints from the soul
This feature is part of Masters at Work, a new series that goes behind the scenes with leading creatives to discover the source of their inspiration. See more here.
"I like to reinvent myself," says Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, reflecting on his 30-year career.
It's a bit of an understatement for a man who, at 52, has created a body of work so rich and diverse it spans five distinctly different periods.
Widely considered one of China's greatest living contemporary artists, Zeng is known for slow, thoughtful pieces that reflect his deep study of Western and Chinese arts and the society around him.
Zeng says each painting takes about a month to complete. But before he lifts his brush, he spends weeks preparing himself both physically and mentally.
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"I must restrain from interaction with outside distractions and place myself in a quiet environment," says the artist, who often paints to classical music and draws inspiration from his carefully manicured Chinese garden.
"Only after that can I become imaginative and think about painting."

Complete progression

Although he may be more known among the public for his "Mask" series of paintings (the most famous of these, "The Last Supper," famously sold for $23.3 million in 2013) -- his work has changed dramatically over the course of his career.
From intricate portraits and dark landscapes to newer drawings etched on handmade paper, Zeng's works are less the result of reinvention and more a progression of his own learning and philosophy.
"Each period of my works has taken a different direction. My own thinking changes," Zeng says. "My works have to originate from the depths of my heart."
Watch the video above to see Chinese master artist Zeng Fanzhi at work in his studio in Beijing, China.