“The dot is the beginning and end of all things. If you truly understand it, you will be able to feel the greater life of the universe, the value of your being.”
Li Yuan-Chia, 1 March 1964
Different artists who took part in the Punto Movement each had unique contributions. If Hsiao Chin is to be credited for building the grand scheme of the movement, then Li Yuan-Chia should be acknowledged for his most profound interpretation of the Punto spirit. In 1962, Li Yuan Chia arrived in Italy, first meeting up with Hsiao Chin in Milan. During the following year, supported by internationally renowned designer Dino Gavina, Li commenced a creatively fruitful period of four years in Bologna. Li Yuan Chia set up his studio and home in Gavina’s factory, living on milk, bread and apples fallen from trees; experiencing true hermetic lifestyle, so as to explore his own artistic philosophy. According to the recently published memoirs by Hsiao Chin, A Historical Dialogue with Art, while still in Taipei, Li Yuan-Chia “had already applied the ‘calm observation’ philosophy of Zhuangzi and Laozi to his paintings, using a space made up of the smallest of dots and lines and the most minimal of colours, as well as the vastest of voids, to document the subtle movements in his thoughts.” According to Li himself, his first painting, “A tiny black dot on a white surface”, was completed in 1959. This approach of employing Buddhist meditation techniques to achieve a silent and serene state of creativity was perhaps the ultimate pushback against the abstract expressionism that had come to dominate contemporary popular thought. By the time Li worked in Bologna, he had developed this earlier approach into his notion of the “Cosmic Point”. In terms of Western spatialism, minimalism and abstractionism, the Cosmic Point theory was extremely intricate but also boundlessly vast. Be they on a folding scroll, or gold sprinkled paper or canvas, Li’s paintings all include barely perceptible circles, dots or brushstrokes in the white background. At first glance, the viewer may mistake the background for the subject itself. Furthermore, Li’s colour palette also grew to be increasingly minimal, until there were only four colours left, each one a unique symbol:
Black: the end and beginning
Red: blood and life
In Senza Titolo (Lot 1006) and Study of Cosmic Point (Lot 1007), the viewer can sense the unique qualities of Li’s abstract art: whether in red on gold sprinkled paper, brightly symbolising the honour of life, or a pure, clean white collage with many intricate layers, the minimalist space displays a sense of ritual and piety that is unrestrained yet appropriate. In this space, almost representative of an altar, Li uses the most minimalistic of languages, be they formed by blocks, brushstrokes, collages, or pigments. He has used meditative processes to sincerely document the most purified, simplified and minimal movements in his thoughts. Hsiao Chin’s memoir details how Li’s Cosmic Point paintings pushed the “paintingness” of paintings to near nihility. Simultaneously, the “Cosmic Point” seems to possess an infinite plasticity, offering those who wish to engage with it much to ponder upon and appreciate; if compared to the large-scale mosaic Cosmati Pavement at the Westminster Abbey, though one is striking for its simplicity and the other for its complexity, both embody many philosophical insights about the universe. The current owners of both Senza Titolo and Study of Cosmic Point have special connections with Gavina, through whom they were introduced to Li Yuan Chia, and subsequently began collecting his works. In the upcoming day sale, there are several other pieces by Li Yuan Chia from the same source, offered for the first time after several decades. These works provide profound insights into the artist’s creative period in Italy, and constitute an unparalleled opportunity for collectors.
In the bustling, clamorous Post-war art world, Li Yuan Chia’s conceptual works were prominent for their remarkable, distinctive nature. Although intellectual, his art has always had its appreciators, and attracted attention from galleries, museums and professional collectors. In 1966, Li Yuan Chia moved to London and according to the catalogue of the solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery, his works were already among the collections of Lausanne Museum of Modern Art, Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Barcelona Museum of Modern Art and Städtische Museum Leverkusen, as well important private collectors , such as David Rockefeller. Nevertheless, ever the individual, Li Yuan Chia did not leverage on this success to generate wealth for himself. Instead, he continued to move north, until settling in Cumbria, where he purchased a farmhouse, single-handedly converting it into the LYC Museum. Since its establishment in 1972, over 330 exhibitions have been held at the museum, attracting 30,000 visitors per year. In using his own life as the canvas, Li himself lived as a Cosmic Point; where the finite is also the infinite, he created his own cosmos with his own body - a tiny dot in the vast universe. Indeed, his actions have imbued the Punto Movement with a heroic quality that transcends beyond merely the temporal.
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