As one


What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do and crosswise to our purposes? For love to bridge these opposites through joy it must not eliminate or deny them. – Even self-love presupposes an irreconcilable duality (or multiplicity) in a single person.
-Friedrich Nietzsche, 1879

To create from the spirit, that indefinable combination of mind and heart, is truly wonderful. To create from a spirit comprised of two individual beating hearts and, likewise, two complex minds, assimilating experience, mood, memory, and expectation, a work of art that stands as a monument to a singular vision is indeed extraordinary.

From the time I first met the Zhou Brothers, a few years ago when I first proposed an exhibition to them, I have rarely conversed with one and not the other at the same time. I have had conversations with Da Huang while waiting for Shan Zuo to return to the room, or visa versa, but these one-on-one dialogues were short-lived.

I, of course, think of them as individuals but I find myself drawn to thinking of them as if joined permanently together. When one speaks, the other listens…and then picks up a thread of discussion, carrying it forward with barely a beat of interruption or commands the floor with the simple utterance of “no”. I have found, however, the differing rhythms of their conversation and the points of diversion in their manner after spending time with them. More and more, I see two complete individuals, complex in their singular composition, yet together in an inextricable way. Not simply two people sharing a vision, but two souls existing in the same place and time – as one.

Like the best of unions, they each have their individual strengths and weaknesses, but are destined to complement, complete, challenge, support, and test each other. This duality is what makes for great art. This helping and hindering, whether conscious or unconscious, is what enables the Zhou Brothers to paint with a forceful gentleness that, I believe, would be impossible if just one brother were creating alone; at least to so full a realization.

The naturally occurring dissonance in a relationship of brothers enhances the collective creative product. Even in the most beautiful of Zhou Brothers paintings, there is a tension that is exhibited by the abrupt turn in a simple line of red paint or the layered application of texture that at the same time strengthens and covers or hides. In their darker works, this tension and force is laid bare for all to see. We can endlessly compare the Zhou Brothers to other collaborative pairings in the world of art, yet I cannot help but to think theirs is not a collaboration brought on by a strategic plan or economic potential. Da Huang and Shan Zuo are coupled because they must be. When they speak of the spiritual nature of their work, they are the first to comment on a sense of destiny. Together, they define synergism and whether this collaboration is brought about by respect, need, or love, the world is better for it.

I want to acknowledge and thank Da Huang and Shan Zuo, the Zhou Brothers, for great philosophical conversations and their dreams, Oscar Friedl for his vision, experience, and tireless efforts, Lanny Silverman for his keen eye, steady consul and good humor, all the lenders and supporters for making this exhibition and catalog a reality, and the staff and Board of Directors at the Elmhurst Art Museum for seeing this suburban art museum for what it is, not what it was.

D. Neil Bremer
Executive Director
Elmhurst Art Museum

Zhou Brothers: 30 Years of Collaboration