A dazzle of beauty and many hidden meanings is how artist Zhao Na describes her paintings. “They are very complicated,” she tells me, “there are many details, I love these details, they can make me feel more real.”
Zhao Na is a Beijing based painter who creates absolutely mesmerizing artworks, full of colour, detail and intrigue. Her paintings are littered with animals, from ants, spiders, wild boar, crocodiles and snakes (symbolising danger) to koalas, birds, monkeys and owls (symbolising a life of ease).
“I like to draw animals that can symbolize different personalities and things, so I use animals to represent different characters in my paintings,” Zhao Na says. “I like nature very much, these are God’s creation, always changing, and have an inexhaustible imagination.”
It’s interesting her use of God here, as a lot of her works put the audience in God’s position; looking down at the world, often a juxtaposition between nature and technology i.e. modernity.
This modernity is often in the form of a travelator carrying the animals, just as Noah’s Ark carried them two by two in the famous fable. In fact, for Zhao Na the travelator symbolises time. “I like some philosophical themes,” she proposes, giving a sense that there’s always something hidden within the reasons why she uses certain imagery.
Originally from Anshan in Liaoning Province, Zhao Na attended the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) where she received both a degree and masters from the Mural Painting Department.
Her work draws on parallels of writer Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series, luring you into a fantasy space where more than meets the eye. We might not quite be living on the back of a giant turtle floating through space, but a close examination of her paintings can lead you on a long journey down the rabbit hole.
Harmonious (2015) looks like a tree containing many plump and ripe fruits ready to be picked and savored. On closer inspection you see a panda resting and then an owl sleeping with one eye open. Then you notice a bear, a leopard and other predators all snoozing away. It’s a beautiful image, all these beasts resting harmoniously together, surrounded by an abundance of juicy colourful fruits. At once the painting is so simple yet supremely detailed.
But where does Zhao Na’s inspiration come from? “My inspiration comes from the observation and feeling of life, such as the Sleeping Forest (2012), which was inspired by my life experience. Survive in disasters, perish in comfort.”
Zhao Na has exhibited her works from Beijing to Shanghai and Taiwan to Hong Kong. She has also exhibited outside China from America to France. “Foreigners like my work more,” she says nonchalantly. “I have gone to USA and France, where the collectors and audiences loved my work very much.” And who couldn’t love her work, so full of life and vibrancy.
Moving into the future, what does Zhao Na have in store? “I have a lot of ideas that haven’t been drawn yet, I want to draw some big pictures and hope to enter the international art centre.” For anyone who loves to look at art and find meaning as well as beauty then it seems there is more to come from Zhao Na.