According to Li Gui-Jun himself, the relationship he feels for painting is 'a bit like religion, a bit like lovers'. This faith-based passion can be found throughout an artistic experience that spans twenty years. Li Gui-Jun was still a freshman when he participated in the 'Advancing Artistic Exhibition of the Chinese Youths' and won the prize with his 140 Art Studio and despite his age he quickly became an influential young artist in the 1985 New Wave Art Movement.
On the surface, 140 Art Studio is a realistic portrayal of a typical atelier scene, developed when the artist was still a student in the faculty. This theme is a development in the tradition of works such as Gustave Courbet's nineteenth century The Artist's Studio, and the image of a male student holding a book on the far right might even be a parody of Baudelaire. Similar to Courbet, Li Gui-Jun claimed of his painting: "it's not to impress people with concrete interests in life conveyed by the paintings that I want to achieve". Hence, 140 Art Studio attempts to express a symbolic intention that goes beyond physical objects or a faithful reproduction of a real scene. The tubes on the wall strengthen the abstract meaning of the painting by geometrically separating the monotonous background; at the same time the wall serves to rigidly cut off the characters' contact with an external environment. The three college students, though occupying the same space, are immersed in their own worlds independent of one another. Both the closed space and the dislocated sense of time are metaphors for individual solitude and the difficulty of communication in society.
At the centre of the painting, on the far wall, Li Gui-Jun intentionally suspends a'wave', which significantly enhances the surreal flow of the painting. Just like the inconspicuous mirror in Las Meninas by Velázquez, the 'wave' shows us a receding space and creates a false impression of visibility and invisibility; it is not only a wave but also a spiritual path to another dimension, which signifies the hope and the confusion evoked by an unattainable freedom.
Li Gui-Jun has succeeded in creating a balance between concrete objects and the rational thought of reality; a balance he has successfully transformed into an abstract concept. As opposed to his masters Yang Fei-Yun and Ji Shang-yi, Li Gui-Jun focuses on a symbolic expression of realistic themes, which reflects much more effectively the diverse social consciousness and cultural structures of youth, and provided him with an escape from one-dimensional artistic methods. For this reason he always avoids certain attributes of physical images choosing instead to lead his audience into a broader space for thought. 140 Art Studio is a unique piece of work with its 'unfashionable' insistence upon paintings of the popular realistic style at that time. The younger generation's self-conscious reflections and their desire for recognition of individual existence are reflected in this painting, along with a ubiquitous sense of society's loneliness. Undoubtedly, 140 Art Studio was a starting point for what was to be over twenty years' experience of 'continuously wandering and exploring between abstraction and constitution, symbols and aestheticism, objects and languages'.
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