Liang Yuanwei marks the arrival of a certain sense of intellectual possibility within the Beijing art world: arriving late to contemporary art through an education in design, she has nevertheless been received as an emerging artist along with other members of the N12 group of young painters, to which she belonged for much of its existence. But despite her position as an artist who has not always been, she also more consciously presents herself as a painter who may never be, working with equal force in installation—as with her contribution to the Chinese national pavilion at the 2010 Venice Biennale, an aromatic and violent interpretation of a mechanism for the distillation of alcohol—and focusing on the spatial arrangement of her canvases. The extensive series Piece of Life, completed between 2006-2008, functions as one such project, acting simultaneously as painting and a performative life work defined by and critically determining the parameters of the artist's working and living environment.
The pattern of each of the 32 paintings in Piece of Life is derived from a cloth or textile related to the artist in some way: clothing, furniture, curtains, or simply fabric samples. After selecting each pattern, color, and style, the artist would then choose one of six standardized canvas sizes and begin working from top to bottom, most typically working downward some meter and a half in strips generally no wider than five centimeters. In this way it would take approximately a month to complete each piece, forcing Liang Yuanwei to work across the face of each canvas morning to night every day as if it were rote bureaucratic work rather than the production of pieces of art that almost explicitly call for a certain transcendental reading. The patterns of most paintings clearly fade from top to bottom, beginning life with robust shapes and crisp colors before receding, just slightly in each strip, into a graying mass of nearly indistinguishable forms and colors at the very bottom; several, however, reverse this process, growing over time into increasingly complete and designed patterns. Some pieces are intricately floral, bordering on the Victorian, while others are comparatively minimal, involving little more than colored spots arrayed across a cool, monochromatic field. In all cases the brushwork is surprisingly both muscular and delicate, with positive space carved out from the background field in tiny but improbably deep motions that appear almost as wounds in the surface of the work. Working in this way the artist remained a prisoner of her own hand: many canvases were discarded and the work started anew, as a single misstep in any given strip could destroy the entire composition of the systematically additive painting.
As a series, Piece of Life was completed in its entirety in a small studio built into a residential apartment unit, and this scale played the key role in defining the extent of the project. The last and largest canvases, measuring almost two meters on the longest edge, literally reached the limits of the space, tying each one of these works to the highly specific conditions of material production from which they emerged. One might say that this was the last pre-professional initiative Liang Yuanwei launched before devoting herself to a full studio career; much of her previous work, too has been tied to the idea of working outside of the conventions of art as a profession, as with the talismanic performative installations that provided personal reassurance during the rocky early years of her practice or the sculptural interventions so minimal that they could be missed by all but the most uncompromising eye.
This labour and the resulting work constitute a reclamation or appropriation of the stereotype of woman's work in a domestic setting, but Liang Yuanwei wisely turns away from the notion of a feminist position by transferring the problems that arise here into the space of universal social issues. In this sense it might be possible to frame a third self-erasing term for the artist's practice: art without an artist, a painter without a painting, and femininity without the woman. Identity clearly becomes a conflicted territory in this body of work, albeit one that is subsumed into a larger political project that attempts to resolve the questions of the former not through solutions but rather through the brute elegance of a general philosophical approach. That is to say, the paintings of Piece of Life relinquish the reclamation of feminine space in favour of a total attack on spatial conditions writ large. Similarly, the problem of an overlap between process-oriented painting and decorative design in the visual realization of the work is also elided by a turn toward an ontology of detail: meaning is located and created within the mark, not the totality of the assemblage, and it is this expanded notion of spatial painting that Liang Yuanwei brings into being with each individual gesture of the brush.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.