When Zhang Enli was tasked by Hennessy to create a painting for Chinese New Year, coming up with an idea was not the biggest challenge for the renowned contemporary artist. Instead, it was his unease with a world still in the grips of Covid.
“In this extraordinary context, the greatest difficulty for me had nothing to do with my personal creative process,” he said. “It was more about managing my anxiety about the future.”
But the Shanghai-based artist eventually turned his uncertainty into a vivid painting that taps on nature, Hennessy’s heritage and the optimism of the Year of the Tiger in Zhang’s signature dreamlike style.
Titled “Poetry and Wine Welcome the Tiger,” Zhang used classical Chinese brush painting techniques to capture the hope and strength that animal represents, in an abstract matter of yellow hues and dark stripes.
“I define it as hu hu sheng wei, which means moving forward with the vigour and vitality of the tiger,” he said. “It’s what I’m expecting for the Year of the Tiger, and it was my starting point in creating this artwork for Hennessy. (When) the public sees this very abstract painting of a tiger, rather than its outward appearance, I hope they will intuitively recall that animal’s beauty and vitality.”
As part of the collaboration, Zhang visited Hennessy’s history seat in the French region of Cognac, where he visited the vineyards, toured the cellar holding barrels of eaux de vie and enjoyed a tasting by the Charente River.
The river’s waters are blended into Hennessy’s cognac, and they inspired Zhang to incorporate them into his painting, in keeping with the theme of nature that informs many of his past works. “Water is the source of life,” he said. “The Charente River runs through Cognac, there’s a natural tranquility there.” Here, he captured it as a fairytale landscape, with sprays of water droplets surging up and transforming into a tiger prowling in the night.
The piece is dominated by a yellow and gold palette, but Zhang added splashes of red to “bring out the festive atmosphere of Chinese New Year.” More importantly, it give him more optimism.
“Those colours made me feel really happy as I was painting this work,” he said.
For Chinese New Year, Hennessy is offering special editions of its V.S.O.P (S$128) and X.O (S$398) cognacs in a gift box with Zhang’s painting recreated on the packaging. The special editions are available on Moet Hennessy LazMall as well as other specialist stores.