Editor’s note: Meet Ivar Zeile, owner of Denver’s edgiest contemporary gallery, PLUS, which features regular exhibitions from established and emerging artists, gallery talks, and happenings such as poetry slams and mini film festivals. Ivar has just joined the TIO family of writers – look for his bio under Our Writers for additional background – to provide an overview of the art scene in the Denver/Boulder area. Parenthetically, he is also a close friend and neighbor (when we are in our Denver home). The following his is first post.

Few artists have made as immediate and forceful an impact in the visual arts as Colorado painter Xi Zhang.  Zhang arrived in Denver in his late teens, with limited English but an extremely high proficiency in art, his father one of the top calligraphers in China, who immersed his son in the arts from Day One.

Zhang came to the U.S. to study at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, a regional school with few rivals in producing high-caliber artists seeking to enter the gallery realm. He arrived with an unparalleled skill-set including national painting awards from China where he learned masterful traditional techniques as a youth. Zhang was quickly taken by the freedom of expression supported in the States, particularly the contemporary focus of RMCAD. His painting quickly grew more bold and exciting, and he received resounding praise almost immediately upon entering the exhibition market in Denver:  his premier 2008 debut solo exhibition, “12921,” garnering him the coveted “Emerging artist of the year” recognition by The Denver Post. He also acquired a wide fan-base amongst contemporary collectors in the city.

Xi moved on to earn his masters degree in 2011 from CU Boulder, continuing to broaden that base amongst distinguished curators as the Denver Art Museum’s Christoph Heinrich (who recommended him for the Logan Lecture series on Contemporary Chinese Art last year as well as the upcoming DAM Uncorked fundraiser), the Mizel Center’s Simon Zalkind, and the Public Art Staff at Denver International Airport, which mounted a show of his large-scale canvases in 2010, the time he was pursuing his masters degree in painting.

Zhang’s most recent solo effort, “11 Ceremonies, ” continues to show brilliance and dedication by this genuinely talented young man, along with a daring streak unusual for most artists in the Western contemporary market. Entrenched in current concepts relating to our digital age and specifically the quickly morphing social media that can project our identities in multiple ways, Zhang’s paintings in the exhibition present a multi-faceted interpretation of humanity within an extremely broad and timely context.  The platform that Zhang’s work springs from is particularly relevant to someone from such a charged cultural context as China, the notoriety of contemporary art from the country vastly surpassing the actual freedom that is still limited by the government. Yet Xi’s work is so much about painting and the ability to formulate a stimulating concept through elaborate techniques.

Zhang discussed the many angles of his newest series last week at a crowded artist talk hosted at Plus Gallery in Denver, where the current show  is on view through April 14th. As owner of the gallery I’ve known and worked closely with Xi ever since he arrived in America, a truly refreshing and rewarding experience that has allowed me to better understand the depth of his talent and the unique attributes that result from the dramatic cultural shift he made at such a young age. Two segments from his talk are available online, and images from Xi’s show and his prior bodies of work can be found on the Plus Gallery website.

Up-an-coming arts writer Nancy Hightower, a local dynamo in her own right, supported the exhibition with an essay on Xi called “Fantastic Rebirth: Culture Is But a State of Mind,” lending further distinction to his blossoming career.

Check out the following video for further insights.


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