Zhu Jinshi


Zhu Jinshi, born in 1954, is a pioneer of Chinese abstract art and installation art. He began to create abstract paintings in the early 1980s and moved to Berlin in 1986. Since then, he has been experimenting with performance, installation, and conceptual art. In 1994, Zhu returned to China, dividing his time between Berlin and Beijing until 2010. At present, he lives and works in Beijing.

Looking back at Zhu Jinshi’s art practice over the past forty years, abstract painting and conceptual installation are two practices that parallel each other while sometimes being confrontational. Zhu started his career with abstract painting, but while his installation practice stands alone from his painting practice, it has also inspired new forms of painting. Only when the two are viewed together can the striking aesthetic value of Zhu’s works be touched.

Zhu Jinshi’s paintings were first influenced by modernism. Three of his works were exhibited in China’s first avant-garde exhibition, the Stars Group Exhibition, in 1979. As one of the first Chinese artists to create abstract art, Zhu initially experimented with random brushstrokes and limited colour to create abstract paintings. He gradually developed his unique “thick painting” style that he still uses today, which is usually applied with heavy colour and thick paint.

In contrast to the Western mainstream post-1990s compositionist, neo-geometric abstract painting, he compared the differences between art techniques and philosophies at a macro level during his roundtrips between Beijing and Berlin over the past twenty years. Although the strong styles of Gerhard Richter, Julian Schnabel, Per Kirkeby, and Kazuo Shiraga in the 1980s impressed him, when he returned to painting after 2000, Zhu identified more with the direction of newer artists such as Albert Oehlen and Cecily Brown, focusing on his own experience and disregarding the idea of traditional abstraction.

Art critic and professor Gao Minglu says, “Unlike the formal rhythm of modern abstraction, which relies mainly on the charm of self-expressive brushstrokes, the expressive power of Zhu Jinshi’s ‘thick paintings’ comes more from the stubbornness and fluidity of the objects (paint) themselves.” He uses strong and tense techniques, employing palettes, wall trowels, wooden shovels, and fifteen-centimetre brushes to apply heavy colours of paint onto the canvas. The shaping of two-dimensional space and the spirituality emphasised in the history of abstract painting are not his interests; instead, his works are sculptural and three-dimensional with the effect of his materials. The gaps, fractures, white space, thickness, and paint form a self-contained visual system. This sense of monumental objects makes Zhu’s paintings not only an art of space, but also an art of concept.

In contrast to his prior painting practices, Zhu’s exploration of conceptual art, performance, and installation began in the late 1980s when he lived in Germany. He took the initiative to dissolve the existing formalist experience and add a focus on social issues.


In 1988, Zhu developed the “FANG ZHEN” art project, in which he set up a cubic metre of linen in Berlin, Germany, and a cubic metre of rice paper in Beijing, connecting two cities and cultures through four sections in this project: display, visiting, participation, and barriers. In 1989, he created the work Exile, a homemade raft with many bottles of Chinese export soy sauce tied to it, depicting the pursuit of his cultural identity. The relative lack of public exhibition space in China in the 1990s prompted a group of artists who had emigrated overseas to open up their private apartments as experimental exhibition spaces. Zhu’s residence in Ganjiakou, Beijing became an active gathering place for artists at the time.

What has made Zhu Jinshi internationally known is his surprising use of materials such as rice paper and bamboo in his installations. In works such as Impermanence, Boat, and Tao of Xuan Paper, the physical qualities and cultural attributes of paper itself are dissolved; instead, the soft papers are given an architectural volume, lightly stacked to become complex and tough. In the open space, the art shifts from private to public, and the works extend together with the space to become a special structural landscape.

As the earliest practitioner of abstract and installation art in China, Zhu Jinshi’s creations have shown great vitality and extensibility, and this quality continues to exist in his current creations. His works are not limited by artistic mediums or times, but rather transcend geography and differences in Eastern and Western identity, taking a macro perspective and sketching a personal history of artistic evolution in the context of contemporary global culture.

Zhu’s solo exhibitions include Painting Sociology (2023), Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; Next Week to Milan (2022), Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, China; Li Bai’s Snow (2020), Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong, China; Wood · Character (2020), Fusion Art Center, Beijing, China; Ganjiakou 303 (2018), Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, China; Presence of Whiteness (2017), Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore; Detached from Colour (2016), Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, China; Zhu Jinshi (2016), Yuan Art Museum, Beijing, China; Zhu Jinshi (2016), Blum & Poe, New York, USA; Performance in Paint: Zhu Jinshi (2015–16), Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing, China; and Zhu Jinshi: Boat, a Yi Pai installation (2015), organised by Pearl Lam Galleries at Exchange Square, Hong Kong, China. Group shows include The Shape of Time (2023), Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, China; The Sea of Time (2023), Gravity Art Museum, Beijing, China; View the Landscape on the Bridge (2022), exhibition of works by Chinese artists in Germany, Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, China; Re-destination (2021), Yuan Art Museum – Wuqing, Tianjin, China; Uncommon Language (2020–21), Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; Trilogy of Contemporary Art in China: The Scar (2020), Busan Museum of Art, Busan, South Korea; Inaugural exhibition (2019), Rubell Museum, Miami, USA; The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China (2019–20), LACMA, Los Angeles, USA; A Fairy Tale of Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection (2019), National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; 28 Chinese (2015), San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, USA and Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA; Perfection by Chance—A Yi Pai Series Exhibition (2015), Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, China; Thick Paint: Jean Fautrier, Franz West, Zhu Jinshi (2014), Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery, New York, USA; 28 Chinese (2013–14), The Rubell Family Collection, Miami, USA; Orient/Ation, 4th International Istanbul Biennial in Turkey (1995), Istanbul, Turkey; and the 1st Xing Xing (Stars  Group) Exhibition (1979), Gallery in Beihai Park, Beijing, China. Zhu Jinshi’s works have been collected internationally by notable public and private collections.

back to gallery