Lot 1154
  • 1154

LIU YE | Composition with Bamboo and Tree

9,000,000 - 15,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Composition with Bamboo and Tree
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 300 by 220 cm; 118⅛ by 86⅝ in.
signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 07


Galerie Johnen + Schöttle, Cologne
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Austria, Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, China: Facing Reality, 26 October 2007 - 10 February 2008, p. 163 (illustrated in colour)
Germany, Cologne, Galerie Johnen + Schöttle, Infatuation, 2007
Germany, Berlin, me Collectors Room Berlin / Stiftung Olbricht, Passion Fruits Picked from the Olbricht Collection, 1 May - 12 September 2010
Netherlands, Amersfoort, Mondriannhuis, Mondriaan and Liu Ye, 10 June - 9 October 2016


Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark, Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, USA, 2009, p. 61 (illustrated in colour) 
Zhao Li ed., China Contemporary Art: Today and Beyond, CYPI Press, Beijing, China, 2010, p. 92 (illustrated in colour)
Lightness: A Clue and Six Faces, Hive Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2013, p. 36 (illustrated in colour)
Zhu Zhu ed., Grey Carnival: Art in China Since 2000, Guangxi Normal University PressGuilin, China, 2013, p. 122 (illustrated in colour)
Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015, Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2015, pp. 203 & 335, no. 07-12

Catalogue Note

“The appearance of Mondrian’s paintings within my own paintings is spiritual. His paintings are so pure, relying only on the most basic of colors, and vertical and horizontal lines. I, too, want to engage in the problem of purity.”

Liu Ye

Liu Ye’s iconic and widely exhibited Composition with Bamboo and Tree presents a monumental expanse of exquisite stillness and serenity – the incipient work from the artist’s limited Bamboo series and the only landscape from the group of paintings. Depicting a snow scene rendered in a straight-on perspective, the minimal composition features only a low wall, a bare tree, a few thin bamboo stalks, and a single spade implanted within a snow covered ground. The top of the wall cuts horizontally across the painting in the form of a severe horizon line, with the vertical bamboo stalks intersecting perpendicularly with the wall and the ground. Three of the gently bent stalks intersect with each other as well as with the horizon line; while in the lower left portion of the composition, the diagonally leaning spade, the vertical tree trunk and the ground together manifest a pristine triangle. Portraying a desolate backyard scene in deep winter, the supposedly stark and barren tableau exudes a paradoxically rich aura of magical fantasy – one that tingles with an illuminated, weightless quality in spite of the clinically detached rendering and austere composition. Liu Ye once said: “I don’t want to become an artist who represents reality, to revert to the early Renaissance. I’m not the realist type. My interest lies in post-modernism, so my images contain a bit of surrealism, of un-reality”. Straddling representation and geometric abstraction, realism and post-modern appropriation, as well as key motifs and artistic strategies from the East and West, Composition of Bamboo and Tree is a superior paradigm from the artist’s oeuvre.

Born in 1964, Liu Ye studied first at the China School of Arts and Crafts and then at the Berlin University of the Arts in Germany. While in Europe, he was heavily influenced by the Dutch artists – Mondrian in particular. Elements of Mondrian’s rigorous geometric abstraction, with its severe straight lines and balanced quadrilateral compositions, began appearing in Liu Ye’s works early on in his career, with Liu Ye inserting representations of actual paintings by Mondrian in the background of his canvases. More importantly, going one step further from direct appropriation, Liu Ye internalizes and assimilates Mondrian’s emphasis on visual theories such as balance and geometrical partitioning into his non-abstract compositions, employing strict and rigorous strategies of delineation, segmentation, portioning and partitioning of space. As the artist himself declares: “The appearance of Mondrian’s paintings within my own paintings is spiritual. His paintings are so pure, relying only on the most basic of colors, and vertical and horizontal lines. I, too, want to engage in the problem of purity”. While his works are categorically non-abstract, Liu Ye utilizes the geometric outlines of objects such as windows, tables, paintings or even limbs of figures and their shadows for use as line and form, mapping out compositions that are imbued with precise balance and correspondence. Such efforts result in a curious tension and interaction within the compositional framework, lending Liu Ye’s canvases a sense of still yet dynamic harmony and equilibrium.

Such geometrical strategies were already employed in the 1990s in compositions that featured characters such as little girls, female teachers, Miffy the bunny, etc. In the 2000s, Liu Ye made a conscious turn towards abstraction which entailed a gradual exclusion of narrative; in the artist’s own words: “The art is purified. By reducing the emotion, narrative, and story present in my earlier works, the work must rely on the inherent elements of painting, such as proportion, colour, and composition”. In 2007, Liu Ye embarked on the singular series of the bamboo – a motif used often as a metaphor for the integrity of the literati in traditional Chinese art. The bamboo is thus a well-chosen motif that thematically symbolises integrity and purity whilst also visually exuding geometrical purity via the stark line of the bamboo stalk. By employing one of the most oft-used subjects in Chinese landscape during the Song and Yuan dynasties, Liu Ye’s Bamboo series furthermore marks a profound turning point in the artist’s career – the turn of his attention toward traditional Chinese painting and his pursuit of unity and interplay between Eastern art and Western abstractionism. The Bamboo series later paved the way for Liu Ye’s also iconic Book Painting series, in which the artist likewise toys with the borders of geometric abstraction through simplified and tranquil representation of books. Here, the literal linkage between bamboo and books is also significant, as bamboo slips were the main media for writing and reading in China before introduction of paper during the first two centuries AD.

As the very first work from the Bamboo series, the present Composition with Bamboo and Tree is aesthetically reminiscent of his earlier snow scenes whilst being the conceptual instigator for the entire group of around only ten Bamboo paintings. The later Bamboo works become increasingly abstract, featuring close-ups of crowded bamboo forests that progressively blur the lines between realism and abstraction. The present work is thus uniquely singular, being the only work in the series to feature a proper scene or landscape. Albeit employing straight-on flat perspective, a curious dimensionality pervades that contributes to an enigmatic ambiance, presenting to viewers a riddle of wisdom, philosophy and aesthetic inquiry whilst invoking a secret backyard of our own private memories. In spite of the sprawling dimensions of the canvas, an enchanting weightlessness permeates, achieved through Liu Ye’s exquisite lightness of touch; in the artist’s own words: “I wish that each of my paintings only weighed one gram”.