High fired clay with glaze
30 x 31 x 37 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco
Photo: Isaiah Plaza


Wanxin Zhang began his Color Face series in 2007 as an homage to his homeland. These works specifically reference Chinese opera performances where actors’ faces are painted in a stylized fashion or masked to represent a character’s personality or cultural status. The use of certain colors can distinguish goodness from evil, and strength from serenity. Although the designs can be complex, there are usually only two or three colors used for each character.

Dripping with multi-colored glaze, this sculpture is in part a self-portrait of the artist. Its rendering is influenced by the Bay Area Clay Movement and his friend Manuel Neri’s abstract coloring style. By disrupting and reshaping traditional narratives and forms, Color Face succinctly captures the cultural duality that Zhang experiences as a Chinese American artist living in San Francisco. His use of a kaleidoscope of colors celebrates freedom of expression, as well as his hope for a more inclusive sociopolitical landscape.

“I started the Color Faces series in 2007, and it’s one of my ongoing and major series. As a comparison point, see some attached images of other pieces from my files. 

“This series is primarily a homage to my culture — specifically the Chinese opera performances where an actor will wear colored masks on stage to represent a range of characters, personality traits, and backgrounds. Different colors can distinguish goodness from evil, strength from serenity. And these operas are just like life — they show us history, politics, and the human condition. My Color Faces pieces seek to ask and discuss the same questions that will never really be answered. They are each individual, they are puzzled, but they have hope, and they wear their own colors on their faces to pose the range of their humanness. 

“The treatment strategy itself is indeed influenced by the Bay Area Clay Movement. I’ve always been grateful to have made so many wonderful artist friends and mentors; Manuel Neri’s abstract coloring style has always stood out to me. But instead of any individual influence, I believe a combination  Peter Voulkos’s clay mastery, Viola Frey’s strength, Robert Arneson’s humor, and critiques and more, have all just made me a stronger artist in expressing my feelings through my art. I am saddened by the ugly politics of America today, the divide showing a particular ugly side of the human condition, but I remain hopeful because this is still the same America that allows us to express ourselves in such a personal way through our art.” —Wanxin Zhang