Home > Living > People > Q&A: Chinese artist Zhang Huan on the relationship between Hennessy and art
Q&A: Chinese artist Zhang Huan on the relationship between Hennessy and art

Moët Hennessy Diageo (MHD) Malaysia celebrated the beginning of the Chinese zodiac calendar with the “Renewal of Hope” campaign, a collaboration between Hennessy and renowned Chinese artist Zhang Huan.

With the start of a new 12-year cycle, the Year of the Rat symbolises rebirth, renewal and a genesis to a better year ahead. In a move truly befitting its theme of “Renewal of Hope”, Moët Hennessy Diageo (MHD) Malaysia has launched a campaign for Hennessy to honour the beauty of nature’s perpetual cycles of renewal through a distinctive artwork portraying the brand’s eaux-de-vie as a metaphor for the New Year.

The campaign sees a collaboration between Hennessy and Chinese artist Zhang Huan, who created a vivacious artwork titled ‘Spheres of Hope’. The larger-than-life painting captures the effervescence and vigour of life through its use of bold colours, evoking an energetic and enigmatic mood — one part gives you crystal-like bubbles and the other floating fleet of red lanterns.

Taking memories of the New Year being a time of joy and celebration as his inspiration, Zhang Huan shares his thoughts and musings on his inaugural collaboration with Hennessy, and the brand’s relationship with art.

Spheres of Hope, Zhang Huan

What inspires you most as an artist? How does that inform this project with Hennessy?

Painting is never about just the object, it’s about using the object as a vehicle to express your inner thoughts, or a spiritual side. For Hennessy, I was thinking about the New Year, so it is a time of joy and celebration, but also a time of reflection on essential questions and the cycle of life.

Can you please describe the emotion of creating?

Art exists as a very primitive kind of extreme: my only concern is that the message I create remain consistent with what’s in my heart. No matter what materials or methods may be, I am always inspired by the existence and interaction between life and environment. Everything is transient — everything that has gone before leads up to the present moment. I feel it’s important to attune to evolution, or what I like to call a ‘natural living expression’.

Your painting for Hennessy depicts a universe of very small, free-floating cells. Are you celebrating the spirit of small things on a monumental scale?

It is my hope that I can express the life of ‘ordinary things’ through a kind of universal form in my creations. This is the water of life, on the most basic, cellular level: it represents freedom, hope, prosperity and harvest. They can carry people’s wishes and blessings, including mine.

There is movement and energy, a sensation of floating. What space between tradition and modernity does this work occupy?

As human beings, we stand on tradition: tradition is not just something to be maintained, it must also be transmitted. There is always something new and ‘now’ to be learned from the ‘old’. Modernity lies in the constant updating, elevating, reforming and improving History. To me they are not opposites: history and modernity are symbiotic.

What inspired you about Hennessy?

I was attracted to the brand’s mystique, and I was curious about the cognac-making process. The biggest challenge was how to blend Hennessy’s spirit and soul with ancient Chinese philosophies, and express the idea of the endless cycles of the universe through my art. In fact, the life cells in this painting are inspired by eaux-de-vie, but they are also a metaphor for every individual being in the universe.

How do you see today’s dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures? Do boundaries even exist anymore?

When I lived in New York in the Nineties, I encountered a completely different social system and cultural background. Such a cultural melting pot offers a unique, rich and vibrant experience. I wanted to hold on to who I am, but at the same time, my reality was New York. You want to get close enough to it to grasp its nuances without being swallowed up.

The West absorbs many cultures; that’s very enriching. When I returned to China, I had a deeper understanding of my tradition and faith, the things you experience in everyday life. Maybe it was because I had to see myself from far away, but I came to understand my tradition and ancestors more clearly. The unique Chinese tradition and modern desires become the sources of my creation.

I believe that Chinese and Western cultures are supposed to collide, influence and integrate with each other. Spending eight years in New York expanded my horizon and broadened my path forward. Most importantly, it made me more independent and confident.

What synergy do you see between Chinese New Year and Hennessy?

Hennessy’s eaux-de-vie were the direct inspiration for my artwork. I saw each eaux-de-vie like an individual cell, and they come together to create something unique. If you look closely, inside them you can see red Chinese lanterns, grapes and amber wine. The synergy between Hennessy and China is rooted in an understanding of the harmony as well as the festive atmosphere we celebrate during the New Year. This visual language uses strong colours to express the joys of the spirit.

What message do you hope people will understand as they look at your artwork?

My hope is that they will feel peace, happiness and a sense of reunion. It is red, round and festive: perhaps the free-floating cells will lead people on a dual sensory journey of sight and taste.

What can art bring to a house such as Hennessy and what can Hennessy do for art?

Art can bring a brand new spiritual and visual dimensions. At the same time, a brand can offer an artist inspiration and new challenges. It’s a kind of interdependent and interactive relationship. It also opens a door to future possibilities. I believe that the cooperation between brands and artists will open up new creative paths. Each informs the other in unpredictable and exciting ways.

Martin Teo
Martin has a bent for history and food culture, especially of the Peranakan heritage. Since the pandemic, he finds joy in plant parenting and continues to expand his collection of Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Syngoniums. He's now on a lookout for the elusive Philodendron Florida Beauty to add to his urban garden.
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