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5 Minutes With: Ren Zhe, stainless steel sculptor

By Celia Lee 7 June 2023

Header image courtesy of Wheelock Properties

When depicting the fantastical worlds of ancient mythology and folklore, most artists turn to conventionally expressive mediums that easily bring the physicality of these realities to life through intricate strokes of a brush and mastery of colours. One artist has chosen to depict these mystique worlds by infusing their essence into the nooks and crannies of his sculptures. We sit down with Ren Zhe, stainless steel sculptor, to speak about myths, interior design, and what heroism ought to be.

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Photo: Wheelock Properties

Tell us about your background.

“I was born and raised in Beijing. Growing up, I was most exposed to calligraphy with a brush. In high school, I studied painting, but it was after I copied some sculptures at Shuanglin Temple in Shanxi that I became more passionate about sculpture. The feeling of creating things with my own hands resonated with [me], so I chose to enter the sculpture department at Tsinghua University for my undergraduate and master’s degrees.”

What is your creation process for sculpturing?

“[C]reating sculptures is like creating a person. It is not only a test of mental and physical strength but also a test of the heart. It is not only to create something tangible but also to pursue a deeper spiritual quest. I first envision what the finished work will look like and then start drawing from many different angles. When everything in the process is clear, I then start building the structure by making a small sketch with clay, then moving onto a bigger one. After the larger sketch comes casting, welding, painting, waxing, and polishing.”

Photo: Wheelock Properties

Why do you choose to use stainless steel for your sculpture and how do you approach creating with this medium?

“As a form of visual art, I believe that sculpture has been influenced by new technologies and materials in the current era. In addition to bronze, [sculptural] art should break free from the restrictions of conventional materials and adopt new ways of expression. [It is for this reason that] I turned to using stainless steel.

“Stainless steel has a special cohesion with light and the environment. Under specific light sources, it expresses a kind of light and shadow effect that transcends existing spaces, creating a sense of [virtuality] and imagery. It meets the aesthetic demands of the current era of visual arts and gives artworks abstract qualities and [a contemporary feel,] providing more possibilities for my artistic expression.

“For materials like mirror-finish stainless steel, patience and meticulous polishing with precision tools are required to achieve jewellery-grade results. In this way, the work can present an effect like flowing water and [reflect] like a mirror.”

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Photo: Wheelock Properties

You focus on heroic figures from history and mythology in your art. What is the concept behind this and how do you design them?

“I believe that great heroes are not only defined by their achievements and accomplishments, but more importantly, by the spiritual strength they represent. Similarly, I want my works to express my inner world, allowing viewers to feel the power and inspiration brought by these spirits while appreciating my works.

“Before designing my works, I delve deep into the lives of the characters [from history or myth] or their stories to understand the beliefs and ideals they pursued in their lives. I pay more attention to the human characteristics behind each character, with the importance [of] being a hero [as] less significant.”

What are your thoughts on the merging of Western expressions with Chinese aesthetics in art?

“In my opinion, the essence of Chinese culture has always been infused into [my daily life]. Sculpture provides an excellent breakthrough for the fusion of aesthetics, humanism, and precision technology. The combination of Western sculpture techniques and Chinese cultural elements allows for a unique expression of art, one that blends modern and ancient aesthetics. This fusion provides an opportunity to create a new form of artistic expression that bridges the gap between East and West.”

Photo: Wheelock Properties

What message do you hope to convey through your art?

“What I want to express through my artwork is a spirit, and I believe that art […] is a container for this spirit. I hope to convey the warrior spirit through my work. The essence of the warrior spirit is not about conquest or killing, but about courageously surpassing yesterday’s self. This is essential for all people, especially [youths]. I hope that [through my artworks] viewers can better understand and appreciate their achievements and gain inspiration and assistance from them. It is my hope that my artwork [will bring] positive energy and motivation to their journey of life.”

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Photo: Wheelock Properties

You recently completed an exhibition with Wheelock Properties, titled “Gu Yu,” as part of its Peak Collection luxury properties. What is the meaning behind the art and the exhibition?

“‘Gu Yu’ symbolises the alternation of spring and summer, representing the time when all things grow rampantly, exuding vitality, and giving people hope. Art is more than just visual appeal; it is an expression of the human spirit and a medium to uplift the human soul. Ultimately, art can bridge the gap between the personal and the communal, transforming a mundane environment into a space full of meaning and significance.

“I hope to convey that not only can artworks serve as independent displays, but also as a form of decoration for architecture, creating an elegant style and atmosphere for buildings. The synergistic blending of luxury architecture and art embodies people’s pursuit of beauty and personal taste […] and inspires viewers to appreciate the beauty of life’s details, to look inward and explore their inner selves, and to give infinite hope and courage.”

Photo: Wheelock Properties

What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?

“I am planning an exhibition featuring the works of the great Chinese novelist Mr Cha (Jin Yong). Similar to the ‘Gu Yu’ exhibition, it will be held in Hong Kong. I would like to keep more details under wraps for now, but I’m looking forward to the exhibition next year.”

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.

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