The paintings of Liu Wei have been a refl ection of the artist’s inner state, with works from diff erent periods revealing different moods. Beginning in 1999, the artist frequently used natural landscapes as his subjects, but even then, the works have varied widely in style. This is all because Liu’s works and his life are inextricably bound. He once said, “My paintings flow from my life: they’re not confi ned by form, nor constrained by societal expectations – my brush simply expresses what my heart feels.” This nearly captures Liu’s artistic philosophy in its entirety. The artist follows the sway of his heart and doesn’t
subject his brush to the prescriptions of diff erent schools of art. Immune to the pull of external infl uence, he has, in a sense, achieved the ideal of anatta, or non-self. After 2006, the artist continued to retreat from the noise of the external world, his internal state meanwhile growing ever more expansive, his artistic style maturing, his pursuit of an Eastern aesthetic taking bloom, becoming natural and elegant. The works on offer in the present sale, Landscape (Lot 742) created in 2001, and Stone (Lot 740) created in 2007, in contrast with the worldly glamour and dazzle of his works from the 90s, are transcendently marvelous.
“Liu Wei’s landscape paintings to a large degree reveal the qualities of both the East and the West, possessing Western technique as well as elements of the Eastern humanistic
spirit. It is also because of the diff erences between these two cultures that any connection [from the artist’s works] to a direct cultural lineage is therefore dispelled, allowing the buds of an entirely new artistic tradition to emerge.”1 Landscape is a classic example of the artist’s ability to step across the boundaries of Eastern and Western art. In 1999 Liu Wei began choosing landscapes for his subjects, though they still possessed the corruption and glitz, the humour and mischief of the artist’s Flesh series. But after the turn of the new millennium, Liu made astonishing strides in his work.
Created in 2001, Landscape vividly illustrates elements of Eastern humanistic thought, marking the artist’s inaugural exploration of Chinese landscape paintings, as well as a desire to return to works infused with tranquility. In the painting, the artist uses, for the first time, the traditional Chinese materials of calligraphy ink and paper scrolls, the colours even more subdued and peaceful, the tones more harmonious, and the brushstrokes simpler than those of his earlier paintings in the “Landscape” series, revealing an even farther departure from the style present in his series of misshapen, ink-fleshed portraits. In his treatment of scenery and plants, Liu displays both a focus on concept that is inherited from Eastern philosophy, as well as a break from the traditional techniques of using lines to create form, but instead manipulates colours that, fading in and out, reveal the spirit of traditional ink-wash paintings.
In 2005, Liu created many watercolour paintings, and using this Western medium, he attempted to interpret and convey the Eastern aesthetic, transcending Western modes
of expression. In 2006, Liu moved to the Songzhuang countryside in an act of returning to nature. Situated among a thicket of plants, the artist’s studio was a reclusive haven, providing a space for the artist’s inner state to grow vast and serene. Thus, in his 2006 solo exhibition “Luohua Liushui” [English: “Falling Blossoms, Flowing Springs”], landscapes and still lifes formed the core of his paintings, the artist’s style exuding incredible maturity. “By 2006, Liu’s talents seemed to have developed in a comprehensive manner, his meaty brushstrokes, fl uid application of colour, strong manipulation of light, hazy portrayal of fi gures, and natural elegance in this moment converged at the very intersection that joins the past and the future.”2 And Stone, completed in 2007, is one of the artist’s favorite works from this period of great artistic maturity. The painting’s subject is a stone, which, while not often featured in paintings, was an object of play and appreciation for ancient Chinese literati, who searched among the stone’s many faces for the spiritual energy of the natural landscape. Like the painting of landscapes, stones can be the projection of an artist’s inner state, refl ecting his or her soul. Stone features a cragged, deeply-lined stone as its subject, and using freehand brushwork with natural, relaxed strokes and harmonious, calm colours, the artist reveals is spiritual ease and contentment. To the right of the stone are thick, whimsical strokes of oil colour, creating spontaneous layers of colour, which captivate the viewer. The brushwork in this painting is not constrained by methodology, but deeply embodies the artist’s state of shuttling seamlessly between substance and nothingness, thus embodying the Eastern ideal of transforming substance to nothingness, and transforming
nothingness to substance. Refined and controlled in its spontaneity, this painting, powerfully alluring, is the most sophisticated among the pieces in the artist’s “Landscape”
Liu graduated from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1989, and became an important, representative figure in the art world during the late eighties and nineties. Liu’s
artistic style developed along with his life experience. In the past twenty years, beginning with the mischievousness present in the “Gemingjia” [Engl. “Revolutionary”] series of
the early nineties, the artist’s works have consistently been characterised by free and natural brushwork, a style which has become distinct and unique. His paintings begin at Western Expressionism, yet are imbued with the freehand lyricism of the Chinese ink-wash tradition. The artist is not particularly concerned with likeness in form, but is motivated by the desire to extract the inherent essence of his subjects, reflecting the artist’s spiritual engagement with the world and all of its living things and expressing the painting’s soul and concept, all in pursuit of a state of non-self and complete unity between heaven and humanity. Liu is truly one of the greats in Chinese contemporary art.
1 Liu Wei, Zi Liang, Saatchi Gallery, p.161
2 Liu Wei, Zi Liang, Saatchi Gallery, p. 204
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