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Jack Ma

Jack Ma turns from collecting to making art - for charity

Alibaba chairman teams up with Zeng Fanzhi, one of China's most acclaimed artists, to paint 'Paradise' for auction in Hong Kong in aid of environmental foundation Ma helped found

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 October, 2015, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 3:47pm

Jack Ma Yun, the billionaire chairman of Alibaba, is known to collect art but his own artistic talent had been kept under wraps - until now.

On Sunday, Sotheby’s Hong Kong will auction an oil painting called Paradise that is the work of Ma and Zeng Fanzhi, one of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists.

The unfocused image of the earth is the result of Ma and Zeng using palette knives to scrape the thick paint used to depict the planet. It is meant to rouse the world’s attention to the need for environment protection, Ma writes in the auction catalogue. The 2014 work has a diameter of 79.6 centimetres and estimated to fetch HK$1.5 million to HK$2.5 million during Sunday’s evening sale of modern and contemporary Asian art.

The proceeds will go to the Paradise International Foundation, a charity Ma and other businesspeople and conservationists have set up to protect the environment.

Ma, a well-known philanthropist, remains one of China’s richest individuals even though shares in Alibaba are now trading at more than 13 per cent lower than their listing price in New York last year.

Conservation is one of the main issues he supports and he paid US$23 million in June to buy an 11,371-hectare conservation area in the US state of New York in order to learn about approaches to saving nature.

“This is my first time to paint, and I feel very good,” Ma writes in the catalogue.

The painting could raise a large amount of money and increase awareness of the foundation, said Jonathan Wong, senior specialist in contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s. That could be why Ma had chosen to partner with Zeng, who has known him for years, to do this rather than just donate another portion of his vast wealth to the foundation, he said.

The newbie artist’s signature on Paradise has probably diminished its value. When Zeng’s The Last Supper was sold for HK$180 million in 2013, it set a new record price for a work by an Asian contemporary artist.

On Sunday, two of Zeng’s own works will go under the hammer in the same sale. Untitled 10-1-2 is estimated at HK$10 million to HK$15 million, and Self-Portrait is estimated at HK$25 million to HK$35 million.