Mr Zhao Gang is a well-known Chinese painter. In 1979, he joined the hutong impressionists “Stars” group as one of the youngest members. In the 80s, he went on to study abroad in the Netherlands, and later at Vassar in upstate New York. His work has been on display at some of the most prominent galleries, in New York, Miami, Hongkong, Beijing and so on. Today, we ask him to join us and share his artistic style, his journey to tailored suits and one of his unfinished “dreams”.
When I asked him, tell me what you do in one sentence, he’d say “I’m an artist. Je suis un artiste, in French.” Yes, he’s that kind of guy.
After a few bottles of wine in the belly, he’d start sharing all of the funny society stories, even some celebrity scandals that really wowed us. We laughed about that for quite a while. Then there was the silence. We started checking our phones, trying to ignore the silence. But not Gang, he was just sitting there, drinking his wine, chilling.
He’s the kind of guy that makes offensive jokes, but you won’t necessarily feel offended. Because that’s just the way he is. But when I asked him, Gang, any romantic encounters you wanna share? He’d shy away from it, “nah.”
Gang is wild, that’s for sure, even overwhelming sometimes, but that’s what makes him shine.
/On His First Suit
“The first time I wore a suit was in the 80’s in New York City. My Italian friend, Gabriella, was a friend of Giorgio Armani. She told me, ‘Gang, you’d look good in a Giorgio Armani suit.’ I was like ‘shit, wear a suit, why not!’ Then I gave it a try. I still have that Armani suit but I was slimmer back then.”
“In the 80s, a lot of artists wore suits for exhibition openings, so I jumped on this trend. Wearing a suit was kind of like a contradiction to the artist, however, it became the artist’s look’ back then.”
/On His Journey to Tailoring
“In the 80s, suits were more artsy—perhaps I thought this due to the crowd I was in. Think Armani and Hugo Boss, with big exaggerated shoulders, wider lapels with dropped gorge line and very bulky or oversized. When I was on Wall Street in the 90’s, everybody wore the more conservative American brand Brooks Brothers. If you had more money, you’d wear English made Turnbull & Asser.”
“American suits were more conservative, and the cut was slightly more generous. Very different from the London cut, strong shoulder, chest and waisted look. I was in England too, for a little while. At that time I kind of liked the London suit; banker’s look and more powerful suit.”
“In the 90s, I worked on Wall Street for several years. Working on Wall Street people wore suits every day, and I got so used to it. Then, I moved back to Beijing in the early 2000s and everybody was so relaxed here. But I still wore suits most of the time. I’ve always liked wearing suits.“
“I rode Harley Davidson before, and I’d wear a suit and tie, for embassy dinner parties, on a Harley. The guards gave me that kind of funny look cuz they caught me on a motorcycle with a formal suit on. But that’s what I like!”
“The first suit I made with Justin at Principle M was a flannel pinstripe, kind of powerful looking but relaxed since it was made with a softer construction. The most recent suit I made was a beige wool/linen blend, quite the opposite from a powerful flannel pinstripe, but it was for one of my art exhibition openings in summer.”
“In terms of the colors, I tend to choose more conservative ones, like midnight blue.”
(But you’re wearing a light purple shirt!) “Yeah! This is twenty years old, made by Paul Smith.”
/On His Casual Style
“Sometimes when I go out, I’d forget I’m wearing a suit, I’d just go into a bar or restaurant and enjoy my drink and spark up conversation. People say I have style, but I don’t really pay attention to my causal dressing. I used to wear a lot of jeans, now sweatpants are sneaking into my repertoire, and I’d put a jacket on with my sweatpants. One day, I was wearing this Italian suit, a short coat with sweatpants and boots, and I was running out to get a baguette. Then I got caught by people, saying “Great style!” I’m not sure if they were being serious or sarcastic, but I could care less. “
“When you can get dressed and not really care about how or what you put on but still look stylish, that’s when you know your style journey is reaching maturity. Another point is not to have too much shit. When you don’t have so much shit to wear, it’s much easier and simplifies the process. However, it took me some time to figure this out and clear out the clutter. “
“In terms of my style don’t really prepare for anything nowadays, I like to be spontaneous and take one day at a time. You can go to another extreme and start to think, “should look like somebody?” and forcibly try to copy a certain brand or style. If you are too contrived with your style and think too much, you’d end up choosing the wrong thing for you. You don’t want to be so confined in your style.”
“Don’t let the clothes carry on your life. That’s just stupid. In the end, your style will either happen or it won’t.”
“After I moved to China, sometimes they interviewed me, my style, put in the fashion magazines. I don’t do that as much anymore. Last opening (of mine) I refused to take any interviews from fashion magazines. I think they choose the wrong person. I don’t follow fashion trends. There’s a difference between ‘fashion’ and ‘style’.”
/On His Lifestyle
“I like to do long-distance motorcycle rides. It’s like you’re on a meditation journey. I once rode from Xi’an to Beijing in one day.”
“I rode through 7 countries in Europe last year. I was in Italy and would ride to France for dinner with friends. The next day, I had another dinner in Zurich and would ride there and spend an evening. “
“Cooking is also my other passion and hobby. Sometimes people would say I wasted my talent doing art, because I could have been a really good chef. I think I have the attitude for it, too!”
(Favourite cuisine?) “Mediterranean, French, Italian. Especially Northern Italian. I like to experiment a lot. I get better and better every time I make a dish. You know, being a chef is like an artist, the quality and taste of the food or art depends on the mood of the creator. If you’re in a good mood, you cook nice food or art. If you had a fight with your wife, well then it might not taste so good, ha!”
“When I travel, I explore restaurants. I’m always good at choosing the right restaurant. (how do you choose the right restaurant?) I don’t know. I just have a funny feeling about a good one when I see it. Instinct. You don’t read it online or anywhere. You just go out and find it!”
“I thought a lot about opening a restaurant—a really nice bistro. In an old late Qing dynasty district, 东交民巷, with old architecture, nice tables and table cloth, good wine, nice cuisine…”
“And most importantly, a proper dress code… all that romance, you know!”
(Like any films?) “I’m too old to trust a movie.”
(If you’re not doing this right now, is there anything else you’d be imagining you’re doing?) “If I’m not an artist? Well I kind of went through so many different lives. Even today, I was thinking, God, you know, it’s so fast. I was this, I was that… I was never so decisive.”
“Now I’m running out of ideas, that’s why I become an artist again.”