Lot 1078
  • 1078

Liang Yuanwei

600,000 - 800,000 HKD
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  • Liang Yuanwei
  • Piece of Life No. 7
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and Pinyin, titled in Chinese and English and dated 2007 on the reverse, framed


Boers-Li gallery, Beijing
Acquired by the present owner from the above


China, Beijing, Boers-Li Gallery, BLDG 115, RM 1904 A Liang Yuanwei Solo Exhibition, 31 May - 13 July, 2008

Catalogue Note

The origin of Liang Yuanwei's artistic language
Liang Yuanwei

As early as 2008, Liang Yuanwei already demonstrated a clearly articulated pictorial language in her Fragments of Life series. The lot on offer, Piece of Life No. 7 (Lot 1078), dates from 2007 and is a representative work in the series. Painted in a confined Beijing apartment, these works are infused with the fervour of conceptual exploration and resistance against the artistic milieu. Liang has chosen an elegantly subtle means of expression that requires immense patience. Starting on one edge of a canvas, she gradually forms a picture by painting in narrow strips, without knowing what the finished composition will be. Each strip takes some 12 hours to complete, and the smallest mistake forfeits the entire painting. The artist’s practice becomes a daily act of quiet risk-taking. All the patterns seen in the series originate from household fabrics like clothes and curtains or other quotidian objects. When Liang selects a visual fragment to represent on canvas, she pays respect to life and destiny. Even if they are oppressive and unfair, she still chooses to resist them in a quiet and subdued manner. At once simple and complex, alluring and yet inimitable, her paintings are formed under such an idea and with such persistence.

The confidence in her own culture palpable in her paintings is rooted in her self-reflection. It is the result of years of self-doubt, -adjustment, -enrichment, and continuous exploration and dialectical engagement with Western classical art and modern art. It is the expression of Liang’s response to the poetics, music, harmonies and rhythms and the everyday. For her, restraint is a virtue, and the seemingly repetitive brushwork on her canvases is nothing less than the embodiment of her patience and determination. She allows every detail to form an image of its own, an image that contains myriad other images. Despite the dense extension of the flowers, they are governed by a calculated logic. The mood of her canvases may be described as “elegant,” recalling the literati painting of the Yuan dynasty. Artwork and creator are both immersed in a refined order, as if sensorial stimuli were vulgar. Private emotions are subsumed under rationality. With the humility of a gentleman, the artist reveals what he or she considers beautiful. Although that beauty is an individual’s creation, it issues from the artwork in its viewing as a compelling shared experience.

Formerly a member of the N12 Group at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Liang Yuanwei, like other artists born in the late 70’s, attempted to commit to an artistic language and medium during the heyday of conceptual art. After engaging installation and photography, she surprisingly settled on painting as the best medium for her concept, although it took her several years to admit to being a painter—in her own words, a transition “from rootless wandering to submission.” During those most difficult years early in her career, she cast both her personal life and artistic imagery towards the brim of complete fragmentation. Ultimately she chose to immerse herself in the language of painting, which became her connection with her own personality. By contrast, she without regret abandoned the strategies of conceptual art. The directly appealing sensations, the clearly pandering elements, the easily digestible and interpretable languages, the handy techniques—all these she jettisoned.

Liang’s 2008 solo show at the Boers-Li Gallery garnered her painting widespread attention, but the imagery of her mature 2008 works was actually the result of profound explorations that began already in 2003, even before her graduation from her Master’s programme. With something close to monastic discipline, she worked against the conservative commonplace that an educational background in design cannot produce a true artist. Painting became a quiet persistence and a daily devotion. Trying to find a language in philosophy, poetry, film, and anxiety was as difficult as finding herself. Liang was even determined to be a punk intellectual—or to act like one. But she felt unsettled no matter what posture she adopted. Ultimately she found her true beliefs in history and classical culture, beliefs that were not mere coping strategies but lived and sincerely embodied. In Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569) and Qian Xuan (1239-1299), in the wall paintings of Dunhuang and the cathedral paintings of medieval Italy, we recognize what she has described lifeblood shared across space and time.

Truly wise artists do not look for shortcuts. Liang Yuanwei does not allow feminine emotions to be exploited by her brushwork and does not allow improvisation. This restraint is rare in contemporary Chinese art because it implies rationality and solemnity and because it is difficult to achieve. On the canvas Liang searches not for a centre, but for an encompassing evenness and balance. Everything should be harmonious and should contain the elements of traditional Chinese aesthetics. Colours and structures are dialectically related. Just as viewers begin to fantasize about Liang’s imagery, they also realize it consists of nothing but plain brushwork. Yett when viewers are convinced that only a technically proficient artist can command such plainness fully, they also realize it is not just about technique, that it is rather about the purity of the artist’s vision of and attitude towards art itself. However Liang’s enjoys and controls her images, and whatever concepts are manifest on her canvases, these images and concepts all spring from her philosophy of life. In these paintings with repetition and without centres, so simple and yet so luxurious, every detail deserves attention and appreciation. Every detail is a self-complete world issuing from the artist’s spirit. She paints flowers like the Chinese literati painted landscapes, with the understanding of a literatus appreciating a rock: that every individual discovers something unique in a rock, and that regardless of its size, a rock has no centre and offers no privileged view because its every detail is to be appreciated equally.

First exhibited in 2008, Piece of Life No. 7 was the brilliant result of Liang Yuanwei’s sustained intellectual and technical refinement. It is also the origin of the artistic language that she has faithfully pursued in the past seven years, and an affirmation of her individuality and confidence in her own culture after a long period of struggle and uncertainty. The work began Liang Yuanwei’s reformation of her artistic milieu.