- Liang Yuanwei
- oil on canvas
Private Asian Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above
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Richly, intricately textured, exhibiting spirited yet deftly refined and tender brushwork, Liang Yuanwei’s Untitled is a finely wrought masterwork exemplary of the artist’s accomplished mature floral paintings created after her participation in the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. Liang is one of the most exceptional Chinese painters to have emerged in the past decade, and the present piece exhibits the extraordinary level of technical dexterity and conceptual rigour that defines the artist’s oeuvre. The enrapturing all-over composition of exquisitely rendered floral petals and leaves recalls patterns in household fabrics and textiles, merging high art with design and spurring discussions on formalism and aesthetics. Her meticulous process is anchored by monastic discipline, restraint and will that conquers passion and emotion in expression – one that sets her apart from the previous generation of Chinese painters who permeated their art with restless, boisterous social discontent. Meanwhile, the split top-bottom halves of contrasting colour tones pay homage to the works of colour field artists such as Mark Rothko, one of the artist’s earliest Western influences.
Born in 1977 in Xian, Liang graduated from the School of Design at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and was a founding member of N12, a young art collective that exhibited together in the early 2000s. Coming of age in the heyday of conceptual art, Liang experimented with various mediums such as installation and photography before eventually settling on painting. In 2008, Liang’s solo exhibition at the Boers-Li Gallery garnered her widespread acclaim, unveiling to the art world her signature floral patterned paintings which she had begun working on in 2003. In their simulation of fabric and textile designs, Liang’s art rethinks ancient Chinese techniques of painting and contains traces of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States. At the same time, Liang's paintings recall Sigmar Polke's paintings following his photography series in the 1970s. While Liang's works may be reminiscent of the Minimalism movement in their quiet stillness, the artist deliberately avoids using geometric shapes in her painting; for her, these shapes are too 'pretty' and 'bourgeois'. The meticulously rendered representative detail, on the other hand, recall ancient literati painting of the Yuan dynasty – exquisite, sensorial, immersed in a refined, rational and logical order.
For Liang, beauty is intrinsic not just to the end product but to the entire process of creation. Liang works arduously from top to bottom of each canvas, constructing each painting not flower by flower but part by part, building up narrow horizontal sections strip by strip without knowing what the final composition would be. Each singular strip takes no less than 12 hours to complete, with Liang completing each section before the background paint of each part had dried, and the smallest mistake forfeits the entire painting. The spirit of her process is reminiscent of the fresco painting technique, inspiring her to take up research on the genre later on in her career. What is thus powerfully asserted in her visual vocabulary, alongside her technical proficiency, is her quiet persistence, tireless focus and daily devotion, as well as the purity of her vision and her humble attitude towards creation itself. The artist once commented: “In my own creative practice I imitate the world, thereby understanding the world, in order to create the world” (Liang Yuanwei, quoted in exhibition press release, London, Pace Gallery, Liang Yuanwei: The Tension between a Bow and an Elephant, March – April 2014).
Executed in 2013, the present lot marks a subtle yet significant evolution from the artist’s early works. Liang toned down the feminine hues and shimmering silky finish of her earlier canvases, adopting earthier tones and more spirited and dynamic brushwork. After almost a decade of practice in oil painting, the artist had developed trust and confidence in her art and new methodologies in image-making, resulting in thinner paint and a much more complex, densely layered all-over composition. The top and bottom halves of the canvas exhibit a subtle tonal shift, enabling a new interactivity within the painting and allowing new realms of colour to be born: when viewed from afar, a layer of golden mist gently enshrouds the top half of the work, while the bottom half falls into murky, shadowy depths. Such developments, especially the dampened colour tones, explore the role of beauty in art, debunking the status of Liang’s work as the creation of beautiful objects for mere visual consumption. The artist once commented: “Maybe in the way that I use beauty, it is also a critique of people who see beauty as external to expression … It is a critique of an attitude of decontextualizing beauty from language or thinking” (Liang Yuanwei, quoted in Guo Juan, “Liang Yuanwei In Bloom”, in LEAP 7, February 2011).
Wholly unique in style, concept and execution, Liang’s elegant humble floral patterns reflects meditatively on labour, process, repetition and contingency in creation, establishing a new artistic paradigm not just in China but in the entire world. Recently in 2017, Liang was featured in a solo exhibition in Venice presented by the K11 Art Foundation that coincided with the 57th Venice Biennale. In an interview, Liang reflected that it was “a great challenge to exhibit [her] paintings in the context of the ancient Palazzo Pisani, under its beautiful frescos […] the grey-blue I used in my last paintings comes from my study on the Italian Renaissance master Angelico; yet, the work imitates patterns of old Chinese silk […] I am particularly glad to have had the opportunity of this project in Venice because I hope people may find such connections too” (Liang Yuanwei, quoted in exh. cat. Venice, Palazzo Pisani, Liang Yuanwei: Behind the Curtain, K11 Art Foundation, 2017). Curator Loïc Le Gall from the Centre Pompidou writes of Liang’s practice as one that is “penetrated by feelings, combining conceptual rigour with an expression of intimacy” (Ibid.).