Wanxin Zhang and Raphaëlle Goethals may have very different mediums with which they express themselves as artists, but they share the profound influence of a dual sense of cultural identity. Straddling divergent cultures and continents, each artist responds with work that presents the unique interpretation and resulting expression of feeling concurrently grounded and unsettled. While Zhang’s work uses “humor, confusion, anxiety, and sarcasm;” Goethals work is meditative, revealing a focus on light and space. While Goethals’ works have what appears to be infinite visual depth contained in mere inches of encaustic; Zhang works in greater 3D, crafting sculptures informed by past and present.
With her life cleft between two spaces—primarily New Mexico and Belgium—Raphaëlle Goethals describes herself as a bicultural artist and her paintings as a physical response to how we are often “bombarded with information and increasingly used to a simultaneity of experiences.” Goethals often regards her works as contemporary adaptations to landscape paintings; rather than mapping a specific geographical region, Goethals delves into the human psyche and renders an exploration of the human mind, thought, and ways of understanding. Landscapes are often associated with a sense of national identity and Goethals indicates her lack of identification with a single space by alluding to a dynamic concept of belonging rather than the static qualities of a distinct scene.
She describes how “the seductively patient layering of material is extravagant, yet takes us to the essence, stripped away of any distractions and aiming for a clarity of thought.” Her subtle use of grids within her pieces also functions to ground viewers through a more linear construct and “anchors us in present time.”
Goethals works are produced using wax and resin; her cloudy surfaces are a product of placing a single layer and then additional ones over it, often using subtractive as well as additive processes by scraping away top layers to reveal a physical and metaphorical past below. In this way, Goethals reflects her fascination with the history of painting and process, which transcends both time and conventional understandings of language. This allows her to “establish her own vocabulary in the form of distinctive groups of paintings which evolve concurrently” and “through repetition of process and the sheer physical effort of applying countless layers in her work, she aims for a deep level of emotional resonance which can only be achieved once subject matter and narrative are out of the way.”
Much like Goethals, Wanxin Zhang’s parallel experience after moving to the United States from China in 1992 to pursue higher education and develop his work in San Francisco had a deep impact on his future body of work. Within his sculptural works, Zhang juxtaposes several tensions, playing on the differences between east and west and past and present—a product of living in two environments that differ in regard to culture, physical landscape, and methods of government. Zhang’s work also functions as a political tool against the oppressive regime of dictator Chairman Mao, something that Zhang sees as having existed in other areas of Chinese History. He describes, “when I visited the Terra Cotta Warriors of the Qin excavations, I immediately realized the feudalism and oppression from the Qin dynasty have never quite left the country”.
Many of Zhang’s pieces thus challenge aspects of Chinese history and the government—seen from the perspective of an individual afforded greater critical liberty after having moved away from the reaches of Chinese censorship. Of the works displayed in the Turner Carroll Exhibition, Zhang focuses on the human body, casting the full form or segments of faces and busts in a way that takes traditional elements of sculpted portraiture or references to the Terra Cotta Warriors and manipulates them to make them his own. The figures are often rendered in color or covered with bright drips, suggesting some form of struggle and narrative achieved through layering pigment.
Raphaëlle Goethals was born and raised in Belgium, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Art from the Atelier 75 in Brussels in 1980 and moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to pursue greater education at the Otis Art Institute.
Wanxin Zhang’s work is informed by his bicultural identity, after having been born in China but moving to the United States with his family in 1992. Zhang sculptural works serve as a medium for questioning both his sense of self identity and the cultural and governmental climate in China seen within both a contemporary and historical context.
Raphaëlle Goethals and Wanxin Zhang: Biculturalism in Contemporary Art
Sponsored by McManis-Wigh China Foundation
An exhibition of two artists from divergent backgrounds and their personal explorations of intersectionality in cultural identities.
Exhibition Dates: Through September 18, 2018
Turner Carroll Gallery
725 Canyon Rd.
Santa Fe, NM 87501