GETTING LOST IN THE FLOWERS

BY LINDSEY WILSON

“When I first saw Zhuang Hong Yi’s work four years ago, it absolutely captivated me,” says Laura Rathe. “I could not get it out of my mind. That’s the kind of art that I like to work with and represent—the kind that haunts you.”

The gallery owner and art dealer has encountered more than her share of life-changing artwork during her 25-plus years in the industry, so when she gives a compliment that high, it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Rathe, who has two galleries in Houston and one on Dragon Street in the Dallas Design District, was so taken with Zhuang’s colorful, tactile work that she bought one for her personal collection. She also immediately knew that she wanted to exhibit it. The only problem was that Zhuang, an international sensation who’s well represented in the great galleries of Europe and Asia, wasn’t terribly interested in establishing an American presence west of New York and Miami, let alone all the way over in Texas. So, after months of politely declined emails, Rathe boarded a plane to Paris, took a train to his studio in the Netherlands, and knocked directly on his door.

“That’s sometimes how it works in the art world,” she explains. “The artist has to trust you.”

Thanks to Rathe’s persistence, Dallas art lovers will now get to see Zhuang’s vibrant “flower bed paintings” for themselves. It’s an experience so mesmerizing that Rathe insists pictures simply can’t do it justice. She will open the fall season at Laura Rathe Fine Art in Dallas with an exhibition of his work, which will run from September 8 through October 6.

Zhuang creates the layered, sculpture-like paintings by painstakingly hand-painting and folding delicate rice paper into tiny buds before attaching them to a canvas, and then painting them again to imbue a color gradation that undulates depending on your perspective and distance. The intriguing, three-dimensional quality of the finished work is difficult to describe, let alone capture in a two-dimensional photograph.

“When you see photos of them, they almost don’t look real,” says Rathe. “They’re too colorful, too perfect. But seeing them in person reveals the delicate color shifts and the intricate detail that exists in each impossibly small piece of rice paper.”

Zhuang grew up in China and studied at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute before moving to the Netherlands and continuing his training at the Minerva Art Academy. His work is defined by the combination of his Chinese background and European influence, the former of which is detectable through the uniform placement of materials, and the latter evident in the free-flowing, almost impressionistic quality that those strictly placed pieces create.

Rathe says that Zhuang found the inspiration for his famous artistic blossoms while traveling between Beijing and Amsterdam. His plane would fly over Europe’s famous tulip farms and Asia’s beautiful chrysanthemum fields, and he was fascinated by the sometimes stark, sometimes blended delineations of color between the beds. In re-creating and interpreting what he saw, Zhuang strove to build a body of art that people across the planet could universally love.

“It’s the kind of work that stays with you,” says Rathe. “Going into the fall season, we wanted to start off with an artist who was extremely talented and completely intriguing. People in the United States are typically only familiar with Zhuang Hong Yi if they’ve seen his work in other galleries around the world, but once they’ve seen it in person, they don’t ever forget it.”

An opening reception of the artist’s show, In Full Bloom, will be held Saturday, September 8, from 5 – 8 p.m. The artist will be in attendance and speak about his art around 6:45 p.m.

Lindsey Wilson is a Dallas-based freelance writer who has a penchant for reclaimed wood and vintage barware.