Lot 939
  • 939

Liu Ye

3,500,000 - 5,000,000 HKD
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  • Liu Ye
  • Specially For You (Olympic 2008)
  • oil on canvas
Signed in Chinese, initialled, and dated 08;
Signed in Chinese and Pinyin, titled in English on the reverse, framed


Private Collection, Europe


The work is in good condition overall. There are no apparent condition issues with this work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note


Specially for you (Olympic 2008) (Lot 939) is quite the delightful surprise in Liu Ye's oeuvre. Executed in 2008, the work was commissioned for a charity event held in honour of the Beijing Olympics in the same year. The painting has been made into prints afterward and widely collected. The lot on offer is the original acrylic work on canvas.

The quintessential little girl is centrally featured in this composition. Square blocks of equal size but of differing colours comprise the background. The five little marbles in her hair, naturally, represent the five Olympic rings. The painting boasts a composition that diverges from expectations. A grid-like order governs the picture, in its clarity of line and precision of colour. The blocks allude unapologetically to Mondrian and his exclusive use of the primary colours, rendering the final visual effect heavily reminiscent of the De Stijl aesthetic that esteems straight line, geometric form and chromatic simplicity.

Unlike many Chinese contemporary artists, Liu Ye's work developed independently of any school – be it Cynical Realism or Political Pop – that developed in the 1990s. During this pivotal period in China's recent history, Liu Ye was completing his studies in Germany. Instead, his work stands alone as an individual, personal vision eloquently laced with the political environment intrinsic to his upbringing. Despite growing up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), his artistic side was stimulated from an early age. He remembers the fairy tales his grandmother used to tell him in the evenings, and, gifted with a naturally inquisitive mind these stories inspired him to create his own fantasies as a child.

His father was an author and illustrator of children's books and his mother a school teacher. Like many intellectuals, his parents were persecuted and sent to the countryside for re-education under Mao's policy of forced manual labour. Yet illicitly he kept a stash of many books whose illegality only served to excite the artist as a child and further fuel his imagination. "It was politically dangerous to read such books in those days. However, these fantastic stories with their beautiful illustrations opened a new and wonderful world to me"

At the age of 15 he went to design school to study industrial design, a strict discipline which required rational thinking. He remembers, "technical drawing was the most fearsome subject for me. You have to dip the drawing pen in ink and then draw fine straight lines with the use of various rulers... It demands no imagination, only accuracy." Later on he was to find the same cold emotion in Mondrian's paintings – which greatly influenced his later and current work. An imaginative childhood and the structured rational thinking of his student days are two fundamental experiences which have influenced his work. His paintings feature childhood memories, tales and childlike notions of happiness: the product of fantasia. Many of the figures in his paintings are children or if adult have childlike features, suggesting that the artist is reaching back into his own childhood for inspiration. The influence of cartoon animation is clear, and he has even admitted that in his eyes the Dutch cartoonist Dick Bruna and the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki are "as great as Da Vinci."

Behind the simple comic book façade of his work lies a wealth of hidden meaning. The major issues of the moment are never more than a step removed from Liu Ye's work, at once hidden and put into relief by his stunning painterly bricolage. Exactly what meaning Liu Ye is trying to convey is left for the viewer to decide. He admits, "To others and myself, my paintings contain merely clues. The motives are hidden deeply in the painting itself. In fact I quite enjoy having others misinterpret my works. It is impossible for me to fully reveal my secrets to other people."