Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Of artist Li Songsong's works, Put Down Your Whip (Lot 610) is rare in its allusion to and derivation from another work of art. Li's personal style of abstraction, deconstructing then reconstructing images, allows him to remove the original essence and meaning of the image and maintain the historical depiction of the 2nd Sino-Japanese war. Li's reconstructed image no longer has the emotional connection and implications that the original painting had, keeping a composed, almost objective standpoint, and causing the viewer and the recreated image to meet at a distance. This distance performs as a device to return the image to pure expression; Li's reconstructed images no longer possess their original meaning, but rather are returned to the untainted state of expression. As he once said: "No matter how you paint, there no way to conceal the reality of history...but perhaps my painting can provide some skepticism in the way we look upon certain issues or ideas."
This work is inspired by an earlier work of the famous 20th century realist painter, Situ Qiao. The original work was based on an anti-war play that was written to incite the fervor and righteousness of the Chinese people during Japanese occupation, and because of its historic value, the original painting is now in the collection of the National Art Museum. In 1937, with the outbreak of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, Situ was forced into exile to Southeast Asia. In 1941, Situ was living in Singapore and that year saw the National Chinese Theatre group's two famous actors perform Tian Han's anti-aggression play, 'Put Down Your Whip,' at a street theatre, and as a result, created his painting of the same name.
66 years later, in 2007, the completely opened China has moved on from its former days as suffering victim of Japanese aggression, to become an integral member of the global economy, with the country's every action and movement under scrutiny from the rest of the world. It is in this environment, Li Songsong, born in 1973, and a graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, picked up his paintbrush to depict his vision of the relationship between history and representation, and in doing so, questions the very way that we see. For the modern audience, the historical belligerence between the China and Japan becomes hidden in Li's thick brushstrokes, transpiring whatever message left into a purely visual form.
Among all of the young Chinese artists today, Li Songsong has become something of a star, with many exhibitions both domestically and internationally, including shows at P.S.1 in New York, the 2007 Moscow Biennale, and his solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in Beijing. Li takes all kinds of images as blueprints for his paintings, including historical photographs, film stills, family snapshots, even satellite captures of Taiwan. As in his other works, Li took the original painting of 'Put Down Your Whip' and broke it up into smaller regions, using a wide range of colors and extremely thick paint, to accentuate the image's details, and lastly, he reassembles the image. With the large palette and dividing borders fairly visible, Li's painterly technique allows him to widen the distance between his viewers and historical events. Using his exceptional skill and technique of abstraction, Li recreates the realist masterpiece by Situ Qiao. While presenting the 20th century history of China, Put Down Your Whip also embodies the evolution of 20th century Chinese art history.
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