Indisputably one of the most accomplished young artists in China today, Liu Wei boasts a body of work that impressively spans the creative spectrum through his usage of different media and techniques. The theme of society, however, has steadfastly remained the central question of his works, with no social observer perceiving with more honesty than Liu. By 2000, the artist's works had been featured at various overseas group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in 2005 and the Lyon Biennale in 2007. In 2008, the artist was also the recipient of the China Contemporary Art Award. During this time, Liu's works underwent a shift in direction. His social commentary became increasingly subtle and implicit as the overt satire and critique of his original works was attenuated. Instead, he turned his attention to form as he embarked upon a new creative path. In a series called Purple Air
, Liu Wei explores the formal possibilities in oil painting. Using a computer mouse in place of a brush, digital design in place of painting upon a canvas, Liu Wei creates a digitally designed image to represent the urban grey and smog of Beijing, and in this way, remakes the cityscape of China's capital. "I use a computer mouse to create my paintings. It's a sort of instinct, a continuation of painting." Purple Air
is undoubtedly a crucial series marking the artist's conceptual shift. During the same period, the artist continued to create many pastiche and juxtaposition installations. Purple Air
is an important series during this turning point in the artist's career.
The painting on offer in today's sale is Purple Air Series IV-2 (Lot 3), completed in 2007, a representative work from this period of the artist's work. Impressive in size, the painting is dominated by skyscrapers, the symbol of the urban city. Bands of exuberant colour are mixed amid the variations of grey that cover the canvas. A gigantic, solitary white sun hangs in the background of the blue-green sky, appearing cold and mechanical. The mirage of the city is portrayed in shuttling, interwoven rows, the ice-cold pixilation precisely conveying the intertwining chaos and vitality of city life, and revealing its rhythm and tenor.
When talking about the Purple Air series, Liu Wei candidly states that the subject of this series is the city of Beijing. "In ancient Chinese, saying that a place has purple air is a way of saying it looks grey and hazy. Really, what it means is that it's full of vitality – it is rife with problems, but it also contains life." Purple Air Series IV-2 shows us Beijing through the artist's eyes – the countless threads that link together in various ways, some real, some not, all presenting at once. As a contemporary witness to China's urbanisation, Liu Wei's conceptual shift has led him to discover the ideal method for capturing and expressing these qualities. This is precisely what makes Purple Air such an important series.