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    Sale 2618

    Asian Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

    30 November 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 501

    LIU YE

    Price Realised  


    LIU YE
    (Born in 1964)
    Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue
    signed and dated 'Liu Ye; 97' in Pinyin & Chinese (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    140 x 120 cm. (55 x 47 1/8 in.)
    Painted in 1997

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    The artist Liu Ye has an unbridled passion for fairy tales and philosophy; due to his recognition that they are two opposing poles of human thought. His paintings roam between the two, sometimes swaying to one more than the other. Portraying them in artistic juxtaposition conjures the powerful and beautiful, always enigmatic works that comprise the entirety of Liu's splendid oeuvre.

    As a student Liu followed a course of industrial design, a discipline he both loved and loathed for the painstaking attention to detail required. In a discipline he likened as 'strictly controlled passion', such arduous focus upon detail, however inspired him to create methodically flawless works with a deeply emotional core. Liu's earlier work, Melancholy (Self Portrait) (Lot 806) is an epitome of what soon became the foundation of his rising sophistication in grasping his imaginative control and artistic instinct in a stylish, moreover teasing compositional language. His conscious detail on the study of shape and form is explored with immense curiosity; as he paints a self portrait that profoundly examine the nature of perception that could easily be manipulated by visual organization. Liu glides the viewer's eyes around the edges of the repetitive spherical forms he infuses on to his canvas to direct the viewer to absorb all details of his paintings in smooth unity. The instant lock between Liu and the viewer's eyes are guided in simple instruction, beginning with the curvature tilt of the head which slide along the edges of the round neck of the shirt, landing on the fingers that trickle the eye lower to the canvas, pointing towards the decline of the wine glass, which in it's globular shape, circles the perception towards the final images of a spilled wine. The simplicity in his painting strengthens his artistic intention in releasing his inner blues, allowing the color to speak for the expression itself. The dimmed blue palette of the background seeped through his pale skin, mutes this moment in peculiar silence that exudes a similar enigma of surrealism.

    The competition (Lot 804) serves a related enigmatic ambiance as his self portrait but of one that conveys a narrative with its figurative landscape, staging a game of darts, which this performance has soon emerged to become his aesthetic concept as Liu started expressing his penchant towards visual rhetoric, inviting the viewers to the decipher the riddle he created through his paintings. Liu's artistic foundations are derived from his inspiration from art, life, reality and history. The figures stand in Liu's canvas, posture verging on typical figurative sculpture of classical art. The palette diffused with grey, green and yellow exhibit a room that is ambiguous in its utility of as an art room or a game room. With the spectator's realization that the dart is painted on a canvas, supported by an aisle and surrounded by paintings decorated on the wall, the figure on the right surface as model posing for artistic execution. The smaller painting of a naked child becomes the concealed inspiration of the inclusion of this ostensibly absurd placement of the nude model. An artistic manner unique and mysterious as his paintings narratives, Liu cultivated this approach into a more phantasmagorical and heartening pictorial language, inventing his own fairytale that delve into the magical cult of geometry and color to draw out the beauty and joy of everyday episodes.

    Synthesizing fantasy and reality, Liu invents a visionary puzzle with his matured intensity of vibrant colors and illumination, a concentration of color awakening to Liu but restless for the audience. Sharply intense to hone a strong sense of realism for his artistic focus and yet nauseating in vividness to hallucinate the perception into dream-like realism, the paradoxical effect his palette has is significantly relative to his context. His whimsical poise bringing joy and austerity emit a different type of intensity from his color palette, an emotional intensity reflective of the artist's attitude towards reality. From the abstracted relationship he commits, Liu seek to linger in the pause between dream and reality, where he locates comfort and peace within the timeless eternity. Like so, Liu painted The Second Story (Lot 805) unveiling his imaginative realm to present poetic motifs of a miniature man standing upside down from a ceiling in front of a window, holding an umbrella, as if in one second of preparation to fly away outside to the bright blue sky. Arousing a disquieting strangeness of its mythical existence, heightened especially with Liu's conscious decision in placing a real man, Liu arranged a picture of hope, where the figure on the left looks at the figure suspended in air, hoping for a magical act that will liberate him from his current circumstance. The window conveys a structural familiarity of Piet Mondrian's work, his favored and constant motif in most of his paintings. Enabling the viewers to gain access to his mystifying state of mind, Liu reappraises his childhood together with his coincidences of the presence to indicate that reality is of past and presence together and the experience between it.

    Liu continued to work on his pictorial investigations by deliberately reinventing motifs from the past and situating it in new circumstances. Consciously academic, austere and fascinating at the same time, he carefully phrased an oeuvre that echoes his artistic trajectory in one, singular painting of Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue (Lot 501). Painted in 1997, is a classic Liu Ye work from his early period. The artist's use of primary colors and simplified shapes creates an illusory world that we, as spectators, are invited to enter, yet may never fully grasp. Liu's use of shading within large blocks of color provides a highly textural sensation and parallels the rectangular color fields of works by Mark Rothko. Both artists harness the mythical power of color as an instrument to transcend reality, whereby viewers become awed by the spirituality of such seemingly infinite depths of space. This effect is fruitfully achieved, owing to Liu's sincerity in divulging his naivety with intelligence, marking the simplicity in his attitude to be of one that is simultaneously complex and universal in context, however assuring a proficient fondness from the audience with his invitation of a warmhearted, phantasmagoric scene. The angel is adorned as a priest, wearing sunglasses and holds a green balloon that questions its ability of flying, hence, questioning its integrity as an angel. Although, his face reveals a mystical and peaceful look, as if in deep prayer, Liu knowingly triggers skepticism from the viewer to continue the visual game between the other figures that hide within the darkness of the blue shading of the priest and the curtain. The seemingly floating priest is 'figuratively' implicit of Mark Rothko's aesthetic logics where color floats in an indeterminate space. As Rothko's paintings are infinite, stretching beyond the frame of the canvas, Liu adopts this notion and applies it into a logic of his own, a visual puzzle, intended to make the audience to wonder within his canvas in infinite search for a concrete answer that is not present. This floating character is often seen throughout Liu's paintings, its identification unclear but suggestive of Rene Magritte. Reappearing in his canvas time and again, this middle-aged man wears sunglasses with a hat. If pertinent to this revolutionary artist, it is perhaps for the reason that Magritte's unrestricted artistic imagination foretold a paranormal experience to the world. This reality of spiritual and transcendental experience merged from Liu's comprehension of growth that evolved from experiences and studies, which he strives to lend a new edification to the spectators through exercising their visual rhetoric in hidden symbols alike with Magritte's surrealistic paintings that was encoded with deep connotations, waiting for the viewers to decode. This straightforward technique in spurning banal representational strategy and reviving it with symbolism, has also worked lucratively as Liu's personal fairytale.

    Liu continues to endow a whimsical ambiance to his painting but his oeuvre is not just delightful to marvel within but is also thoroughly engaging in the sense that the mystery of these characters entices the spectators with an endless guessing game. The unending interaction he brilliantly operates is furthermore accentuated with his superb unity of art and architecture. A structural manner, evidently admitted to be an embracement of Mondrian's work is frankly portrayed by the bright rendition of his work on the lower part of the canvas. The mathematically organized subjects in this canvas alleviate the visual expectations of a perfectly asymmetrical alignment. The priest's spectacles are illuminated with one glass, complementary to the figure's spectacles on the right, indicative of the unity in character. Perchance, indicative that these characters in the painting are all representative of one person of Rene Magritte, but still remains undisclosed to the audience. The two figures of a man and a child are possibly difficult to discern to emanate symbolism in twofold, one of the unity of three characters as one and the other as a premonition of a dark story, hiding behind the shadows, away from a streak of dazzling sunshine that spreads across the composition, suggesting the stateliness and harmony of the church.

    The yellow overcast of the painting, consuming and controlling the ambiance of the environment, inquire the spectators to notice Liu's minimal selection of color. Notwithstanding yellow, he utilizes other primary colors of red and blue to form the green of the balloon, the only anomaly to the given primary color system. The overall painting then generates as a figurative version of Mondrian's rendition. However, Liu does not only narrow his practice of the fundamentals in formality to color but also continues to practice his previous formality of conducting a perceptual guidance of his paintings by cunningly arranging his subjects. Beginning from the green balloon, tracing the circular silhouette of the hat and its flat base pointing towards the spear the child holds is then directed down to the square chair, which the horizontal line of the seat connects the vision to the horizontal line within the Mondrian's painting and eventually landing on the man that hides behind the canvas. Liu's astonishing play with the spectator's vision is dramatized, moreover relaxed in a dissimilar take in Portrait of Eileen Chang (Lot 803). Although the seemingly transient space in the background of both the works is enticing in the sheer, potential space it suggests, Liu's flexibility in creation affirms his initial belief in learning, growth and wisdom.

    Eileen Chang, considered one of the most notable writer in China has been captured by Liu's benign painterly description in Portrait of Eileen Chang. Posing a certain personal fondness of the writer, Liu extracts the intellectual charisma of the writer in sophisticated minimalism with subtle control of formality. His remarkable insight in composition is found in positioning the protagonist on the lower canvas, engulfed by infinity of the color blue. She stands in tasteful elegance,coming into sight from the centre but slightly inclined towards the left of the canvas. However, this is only of Liu's artistic erudition by his ingenious decision with the cornering eyes and her gracefully elongated neck that both delicately direct towards the left of the canvas. The range of gradation floods the visual stimuli of the viewer with its subtle effects of light and dark, bestowing a metaphysical impression that result in a transcendental experience. The contrast of the cool blue against the white porcelain face of Eileen Chang provide beyond the secular, enchanting her character with enhanced luminescence. Liu's brilliance in visually delivering Chang's literary poeticism is nestled in his theatricality of the color and lighting, but the intellect and personal trajectory of Chang can be traced within the deep gaze and the pursed lips of the protagonist. The command of her facial expression beckons her strong yet kind demeanor, reflective of her writing that rendered her moral integrity and described the aching maturity of human experience. Liu Ye's visage can be outlined on the face of Eileen Chang, perhaps as an act of admiration, visually appropriating an idiom 'Imitation is the highest form of flattery.' He shared the same values as this prominent writer as he believed 'basic human sentiments such as humanitarianism, beauty, kindness and sadness are far more touching and important to me than any political concepts.' Liu's message may simply be that the languid aspects of life may be dramatically brightened by the advent of art, literature and a touch of imagination; a lucid message, but also a simple truth also presented in simplicity and honesty through his childhood recollection and absurdly rich compositions and autonomous pictorial use of color.


    Serieuze Zaken, Amsterdam, Holland


    Solo Exhibition of Liu Ye, exh. cat., Mingjingdi Gallery, Beijing, China, 1997, p. 23. (illustrated


    Beijing, China, Mingjingdi Gallery, Solo Exhibition of Liu Ye, 1997.