Liu Ye is alone among his generation of artists in China for the breadth and depth of his encounter with the Western painting tradition, and for the way this encounter has led him to develop a painterly language at once completely distinctive and infinitely varied. A Liu Ye, in other words, is immediately recognizable as a Liu Ye, not because of one or two signature motifs, but as a single manifestation of a mature and multifaceted style, much in the way of the old masters. His was not the typical Chinese encounter with European paintings, moderated and mitigated by scarce and poorly printed textbooks. He holds, after all, not only a degree from the Central Academy in Beijing, but another from the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin.
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.''
It was the same new and wonderful world that fuelled the artist's investigation, which then manifested itself into a body of paintings that departed dramatically from his use of primary colours in all the pictures that had come before and were to come after. Alluding most probably to the collection of Hans Christian Andersen fables, these compositions have shed the bright reds, blues, yellows and greens, replacing them with a delicate palette of pastel blues and light grays. Then blanketing the grounds and speckling the skies with an ethereal white, Liu Ye has transported us into a faraway land where the snow has just started to come down. In this very small yet thematically distinct group of works executed between the short window of 2004-2006, the artist's peculiar ability to cast an atmospheric spell over his imagery is brought to the foreground. With an economy of colours, he has managed to send a chill down our spines—it is cold and silent, save the gentle howling of the icy winds, and we are caught in the middle of a wintry landscape, our whereabouts imperceptible and unknown. An old beggar, his feet deep into the bed of snow, holds a staff in one hand and a chipped saucer in the other in Snow in January (Lot 998). His head is wrapped warmly in a hat and his frail body clad in patchwork coat and pants; in the midst of constructing his fairy land, Liu Ye did not forget to sign off with a modest tribute to Mondrian. Presumably the same man holding the hand of the little girl in The Long Way Home (fig. 1), he no longer has his back toward us and reveals finally his countenance. Deprived of means yet so serene in temperament, the old man is a Liu Ye, a painting of minimal details yet resplendent with magical beauty.
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