Shanzuo Zhoushi and Dahuang Zhoushi, born in Guangxi, China and currently based in Chicago, US, are world renowned Chinese painters. Since coming to the US in 1986, they have become celebrity artists in US and Europe with their endeavor and talent. Time and time again they created legends of the world’s abstract art history; their paintings are chased after by collectors, celebrities, museums and foundations; they hold exhibitions all over the globe and have received numerous awards.
As one of the most important contemporary artists duo, they create unique, profound, and powerful works through the collaboration of the two. Their contribution to late 20th century’s contemporary art is unneglectable, and their works have made the top rankings of global living artists. Together, the Zhou Brothers have led an artistic career for over 40s, creating a legend of art history and American dream.
The Zhou Brothers were born in 1950s, China Guangxi, into a family of scholars, and were committed to art since a very young age. In the late 1970s, Zhou Brothers developed an abstraction style that merged China’s primitive art aesthetic - inspired by the ancient Huashan rock paintings - with the language of western art tradition. They also established a system of symbols that express life’s passion and power, and successfully displayed abstruse eastern philosophy, and possesses a shocking contemporary vision.
In 1985, at the age of 33 and 28 respectively, the Zhou Brothers reached the peak of contemporary art in China with their abstract paintings, and were invited to put on a solo exhibition in Chicago. Their first exhibition immediately attracted the attention of the Chicago art community. Chicago Sun-Times art critic Margaret Hawkins described the show as follows: “The whole thing is a pattern of ritual celebration that owes nothing to Renaissance perspective or the Western tendency toward narrative.” The Zhou Brothers style not only belongs to the abstract sphere which the west is familiar with, it also carries the mysterious vibe of ancient China’s prehistoric civilization. After the exhibition, the Zhou Brothers were followed by commercial success. By 1990, their exhibitions had taken place in high end galleries and art museums around the world.
The Zhou Brothers’ thinking, aesthetic, and creativity are a symbiosis of eastern and western philosophy, art, and literature that informed their development since early childhood, and eventually spurring the evolution of their influential philosophy. They call their philosophy “Feelingism,” and described it as “feeling is liberty.” It can be interpreted as believing in yourself, and following your heart. The Zhou Brothers create paintings through unique collaborations, and the most compelling thing about this process is the intricacies of spirituality.
In the past decades, the Zhou Brothers’ works have been constantly evolving. Like all talented artists who consciously depart from their signature styles and explore new possibilities, the Zhou Brothers’ works have evolved considerably over the decades. Since the turn of the millennium, the Zhou Brothers’ paintings have become almost entirely abstract and free flowing. The color becomes brighter and richer. Most traces of narrative and figure have been eliminated. Texture is more important than ever. The paintings are more medium-based and are process-driven, and are more concerned with the fluidity of the movement than ever — the flow not only in style, but also in emotion.
Unlike their early paintings, where struggles and fights were shown clearly on the canvas; their new works show a uniform, calm yet elaborate style, with all movements hidden beneath the surface. As they say, they now seek a more intangible sense of movement driven by an invisible flow. Entering the fourth decade of their collaboration, this may mark the successful maturation of their personal philosophy of “Feelingism.” From the paintings, it seems that they have made their choices in life and are satisfied with their answers.
Their latest works, The Water Lily Pond of Life, is a new series in this direction.
In 1973, The Zhou Brothers created their first painting together, titled “The Wave,” marking the beginning of their joint artistic career.
In the late 1970s, they innovatively took inspiration from ancient art, and created a series of work that sets its background with the primitive Huashan rock paintings with a rich ethnic style. In 1985, the Zhou Brothers Solo Exhibition was held at the National Museum of Art, showcasing 180 pieces of art. The exhibition was highly spoken of by established artists including Liu Hiasu, Wu Zuoren, Li Kuchan, Li Keran, and Zhang Ding. Liu Haisu wrote a calligraphic inscription in the gallery that began with praise for the brothers: “Open-minded and broad thinking, creating a new trend.” The exhibition toured in National Museum of Art, Shanghai Museum of Art, and Nanjing Museum of Art. This was the first time of a major exhibition touring at national museums in the 1980s of China, bringing a huge impact on the art community then, and signaling the rise of contemporary Chinese ethnic art.
Zhou Brothers were invited to U.S. to put up a solo show; they’d been active on the international art scene ever since.
Their painting Man and Nature wins first prize at the Smith Art Museum exhibition in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Brothers purchase their present studio on Morgan Street and call it “paradise.” Another large work is created there that they consider most representative of their style called Life Temptation.
The brothers start the Zhou Brothers Art Foundation.
The brothers’ traveling exhibition opens at the Kunsthalle in Darmstadt, then travels to the Stadt museum and the Ludwig Museum in Budapest.
The Chicago International Art Exhibition commissions the Zhou Brothers to create a public installation. They create Wind·Wisdom.
The brothers receive the ‘Best Artist Award’ from the Kunsthalle in Darmstadt, Germany.
The brothers receive the Haitland Foundation Award combined with a large exhibition at the Gothic Hall at the Castle of Celle.
They were invited as a guest lecturer at the School of Design at Putnam House in Dorset, England.
The brothers accept an invitation for a guest professorship at the International Sommerakademie in Salzburg, Austria.
The Zhou Brothers are invited to perform at the opening reception of the Millennium World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The series Open my Dooris exhibited at the Villa Haiss das Museum für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Germany.
The Ministry of Culture of Moscow, Russia, invites the Zhou Brothers to exhibit at the Central Exhibition Hall in Moscow.
The first exhibition of Zhou Brothers works at the Foundation has the widest time range of any previous show and the exhibition travels to Austria and Germany.
The brothers are honored with the Immigrant Achievement Award from the American Immigration Law Foundation in Washington DC.
In the same year, they purchased an 85,000-sq/ft warehouse building on 35th Street to establish the ZhouB International Institute of Art.
A sculpture park in Michigan is established by the Brothers.
The brothers received the Lincoln Award from the Lincoln Academy.
Zhou Brothers were commissioned by President Barack Obama to create the painting Eight US Presidents and the Great Wall as an diplomatic gift to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The Zhou Brothers celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Zhou B Art Center by receiving a proclamation by Governor Patrick Quinn, announcing October 16th as Zhou Brothers Day in Illinois.
To commemorate the economic and cultural impact the Zhou Brothers have made on their neighborhood Bridgeport, the 35th Street officially were renamed the Honorary Zhou Brothers Way by the Chicago Mayor.
In the early 2000s, as a result of their international influence and contributions to contemporary art, the Zhou Brothers were invited as special art and cultural representatives, to perform live painting at the opening reception of the Millennium World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In the spotlight of the world, in front of almost 300 political leaders, over 1000 economic tycoons, and more than 600 cultural celebrities, they created a large scale painting titled “New Beginnings” on a 10’ x 25’ canvas, calling back to their most important theme, humankind.
After the painting performance, US president Clinton gave the opening speech for the Forum, and met with the Zhou Brothers to congratulate them on the impression they made and their outstanding contribution to art. During the Forum, the Prime Minister of Switzerland Adolt Ogi, the President of Germany Johannes Rau, and the Prime Minister of Netherland Annemarie Jorristma-Lebbink and many other significant political leaders also met with the Zhou Brothers.
During their painting process and live performances, the canvas becomes a battlefield of their fierce fights and struggles. It is amazing that in each battle, the brothers will mutually reach a singular moment of peace, or yield a truce at the end. To watch the residues left on their canvas is to experience “Tao”, which Laozi describes in his <Tao Te Ching> as:
To date, the Zhou Brothers have performed at various important international occasions.
At the invitation of President Obama, President of the People's Republic of China Hu Jintao paid a state visit to the US from January 18 to 21 in 2011. During the visit, President Obama prepared a meaningful gift to President Hu. The artists invited to create the gift are the Zhou Brothers.
The gift was a painting titled “Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall” The main body of the painting was the eight U.S. presidents starting from Nixon, with the Great Wall in the background - these choices and compositions are metaphors of the development of China and US relations. Every detail of the painting is as much of a profound political symbol as it is a reflection of the unique artistic style of the Zhou Brothers.
The work had the entire White House in awe. The Zhou Brothers had created a gift that is truly unique, which had not only left a profound impression in Hu’s visit, but is also a lasting testament to the China–US relations.
On the 21st of January, a short documentary film titled “The Zhou Brothers: A Painting In Honor Of President Hu Jintao's State Visit” was released on the official white house website. The film is over a minute long, and introduces the artists and motifs behind the painting “Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall”.
The description of the documentary says, in order to pay tribute to the Chinese President Hu, Obama presented a diplomatic gift of oil painting, and the creator of which are Chinese American artists Zhou Brothers from Chicago, where Obama’s home is. The elder brother Shanzuo Zhoushi told reporters that in December of the last year, they received a call from the White House, proposing for the upcoming visit of Hu Jintao a painting. The theme of oil painting was decided by the White House, while the painting’s content was conceived by the Zhou Brothers alone: the eight US presidents since Nixon's ice breaking visit to China were chosen for the painting, in recognition of their contributions to the advancement of the China-US relations.
The brothers decided to feature the Great Wall of China along with U.S. Presidents in their painting. “Because the Great Wall has a sentiment of eternality”, Dahuang Zhoushi says.
This painting took the brothers up to a month to finish. It’s an original multi-textural oil painting on canvas measuring 86 inches wide and 68 inches high. “8 and 6 are lucky numbers that coincide with China’s country code 86”, Dahuang Zhoushi explained.
“We use only the simplest strokes to capture the essence of the eight U.S. presidents. Each portrait is loaded with primitive codes from the dawn of human civilization, and this is the very own style that we’d established. Similarly, the composition of the painting, positioning of each presidents, are decided after careful consideration.” said Dahuang Zhoushi.
From the Great Wall of China to the portraits of the eight U.S. Presidents since President Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972, the painting is replete with imagery and motifs that represent 5,000 years of Chinese culture and the friendship that our two countries have shared and will continue on together into the future.
In 2014, U.S. President Obama and President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping met on the Nuclear Security Summit. Zhou Brothers’ sculpture ‘Ring of Life’ was gifted to Xi by Obama.