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China artist Zeng Fanzhi admits "exhibition-phobia"

By Isla Binnie

LONDON (Reuters) - Zeng Fanzhi may be one of the world's most feted and valuable living artists, but the Beijing-based painter says he has little time for the publicity such stature brings.

Presenting a new showcase of canvases partly based on the 15th-century works of German master Albrecht Duerer at the Gagosian Gallery in London, Zeng told Reuters he had developed what he called "exhibition-phobia".

"The reason I chose to be an artist, since my childhood...is actually because I want to find a place that is tranquil...isolated from the outside," Zeng, born in 1964, said at the unveiling of his first solo exhibition in Britain.

"Even now I am still seeking a quiet environment, a peaceful environment," Zeng continued. "It is my personal dream that some day I can just do the painting."

The choice to imitate Duerer, whose techniques Zeng learned as a student, is in keeping with this reflective mood.

"Returning to Duerer's work I was particularly touched by the story behind one of his paintings: the praying hands."

According to legend, the work-worn hands in question belonged to Duerer's brother, who was also a promising painter. The family could only afford to send one of the brothers to art school while the other had to take up manual labor, developing the arthritic joints and protruding veins in the picture.

"This story inspired me," Zeng said, adding that the message of "enduring love" it evokes could act as a valuable lesson in his native China.

Also famed for his more overtly political work, Zeng broke a world auction record for contemporary Chinese art in 2008, when his "Mask Series 1996 No. 6", which shows eight masked youths in Red Guard scarves, fetched $9.5 million at auction in Hong Kong.

The new exhibition, completed by expressionistic landscapes, will be open until January 19 2013.

(Reporting By Isla Binnie, editing by Paul Casciato)

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