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Hyperlinks To The Past

5280 Magazine

Denver’s second Biennial of the America’s is a festival of ideas, arts and culture meant to examine issues impacting life in the Americas. Among the artists tapped to be part of this year's event is Xi Zhang.

Painter Xi Zhang was on the national stage in 2011 when his work was used to help the nation reflect on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, Xi’s work will be seen by another international audience – those gathering in the city for the Biennial.

“Xi’s is a perfect example of an artist who comes from abroad, makes Denver his home and creates new work that really captures that duality of cultures,” said Tariana Navas-Nieves, Manager for Cultural Programs at Arts and Venues Denver.

Credit Xi Zhang, Plus Gallery
Xi Zhang, The Flash

Facebook, Twitter, video games, advertisements, and internet searches All part and parcel of modernity. Painter Xi regards all that digital material as more than necessary, he believes, regardless of race, it has become intertwined into humanity. He calls it 21st Century DNA,” which is also the title of the exhibit.

“So what I am saying in 21st century DNA is like re-mix culture,” said Xi. “It is bringing exciting new generation. New global map.”

A native of China, the 28-year-old Xi moved to the United States almost a decade ago. His paintings sit at the intersection of technology, culture, and society. Some are humorous, some epic, and some controversial. Xi’s work often blurs the lines of the digital and physical worlds.

Cellphone self-portraits (commonly referred to as selfies), Angry Birds, and hyperlinks are just a few of the contemporary technological items integrated into the paintings.

Credit Xi Zhang, Plus Gallery
One of a series of paintings created by Xi Zhang that riff on the cell phone "selfie" phenomenon.

“We are not using the old reference to identify people and culture,” said Xi. “I think that is building a strong community by bringing all different cultures together and merge as one.”

Xi has degrees from the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The work he created as a student caught the attention of gallery owner Ivar Zeile, whose Plus Gallery represents him.

“The daringness, the uniqueness. Coming from a student his age, this was absolutely breath-taking, brilliant work,” said Zeile.

Zhang has the eye of those on the other side of the art world too.

Since 2008 Xi’s work has received a shout out at least three times by Denver Post Art Critic Kyle Macmillian.He has named Xi “Emerging Artist of the Year,” one of the“12 Best Artists Under 35” and a Pathfinder in the Arts.

MacMillian has said Xi’s work “possesses an integrated, well-developed and surprisingly mature artistic vision, which plays itself out with impressive creativity.”

Xi Zhang: 21st Century DNA, runs through July 29 at the McNichols Civic Center Building.

Arts District is a collaboration between KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO. 

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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