In Zai Kuang’s latest exhibition, Basic Food, the artist has focussed on images of staple ingredients from the kitchen. Isolated within a dozen or more small canvases, these familiar items here assume a strange, unexpected prominence by being ‘elevated’ as the sole focus of each work. The translation of the artist’s intense scrutiny into paint reveals the objects to us as mysterious, but elegant. The artist states:
My works aim to capture the familiarity of everyday objects and their relationships. I hope to evoke a sense of simplicity and purity in relation to these objects, not only capturing the shape, form, colour and texture but also showcasing the dignity of the object and emphasising the space surrounding it.
The seemingly random juxtaposition of objects, within the paintings, reveal oddly poetic connections. In one painting, an open bag of flour and an open bottle face each other across a deserted ground. In another, a half-full (or half-empty, depending on your point of view) glass of milk waits beside an empty mug. A red plastic spoon is immersed in a glass of water on an otherwise empty bench top. Ten eggs rest safely in a carton while two sit vulnerably exposed on a tabletop. A mound of flour looms above an empty stretch of tabletop, as enigmatic as Mount Kilimanjaro on the horizon-line. A ripe tomato has been sliced and the pieces placed on a white platter.
The paintings are certainly about objects that are familiar to us, but they also record the traces of human beings who have once intervened with these objects, but who are now absent from the proceedings. We are left with traces of their passing, amongst the spilled flour, the opened and crumpled packets, the poured liquids.
Kuang reminds us that, in the hands of certain artists, humble, everyday subject matter can be as moving as any other: we need only think of Giorgio Morandi to find another fine example of this.
Steve Cox, 2018