Li Huayi (b. 1948)
A Strange Mountain
signed in Chinese; dated in Chinese (lower right)
ink and colour on paper
177 x 89.5 cm. (69 5/8 x 35 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2010
Acquired directly from Beijing Center for the Arts
Beijing Center for the Arts, Li Huayi, Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, pp.146 - 147).

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

Based in the United States, Li Huayi first studied traditional Chinese painting as a child, where he subsequently also studied Western painting. His superbly realistic paintings are the result of his meticulous observation of nature. Having assimilated Western art and philosophy, he returned to the lexicon of oriental landscapes, concentrating on painting in the style of the Northern Song dynasty to combine the inspiration of oriental painting taken from spaces in nature with the realism of Western imagery. This contemporary ink painting depicts a magnificent towering mountain whose peak is hidden in mist. The painting follows the typical composition of positioning lesser mountain forms in the foreground while the major form can be espied at the rear: this subtly echoes the style of the Zhe School of landscape painting. The composition in which both edge and cor ner can be seen embodies the essence of the 'single corner' and 'single edge' compositions for which Southern Song artists Ma Yuan and Xia Gui were respectively celebrated. Li Huayi's work creates a stunning spatial effect through the innovative positioning of the dominant peak in the foreground. The rugged rock stands in the foreground shrouded in a thick mist which pervades the painting. The artist's application of varying ink shades embodies his meticulous attention to changes in depth.
This painting of a heroic mountainous landscape with its vigorous spirit adheres to Song Dynasty aesthetic thought which favoured the serenity of simple ink rather than the use of multiple colours. At first glance, this work does indeed appear to be a Song Dynasty painting. The repeated delicate brush strokes and the retouching in light colours endow the picture with a deeper sense of texture and implied meaning. Like the Song artists, who regarded 'nature as the greatest master', Li Huayi has travelled extensively to numerous famous mountains as well as to Dunhuang on the ancient Silk Road. While he taking in many mountains and rivers, he has been enlightened by all that he has seen. His travels have given him a profound understanding of Buddhist culture which affords to his works the serenity and majesty found in oriental aesthetics. The artist transforms his veneration of Song Dynasty painting into densely vivid brush strokes and he leads the viewers into the depths of mountains and serene valleys so that we too can experience the loss of the self and the material world which Song-dynasty artists pursued. Living overseas has without a doubt influenced Li Huayi's works: he synthesizes abstract elements from Western structuralism in his Chinese landscapes in the same manner that Serge Poliakoff conceals a strict structure within his seemingly irregular polygon patterns. While the bold layout depicts the majesty of the mountains, subtle variation in ink tones delineate size and space. The precise composition, which is complemented by relaxed brush strokes, defines the mood of the painting. Li Huayi uses the gestures of modern art to pay tribute to the literati who pursued introverted reflection. Likewise, the viewer is given the opportunity to reflect on former times by engaging in dialogue between the present and the past. Chinese landscape paintings do not only portray scenery: they are also a vehicle by which cultural heritage is transmitted. The artist creates such paintings through abstraction of the image of actual objects and internalisation of his emotional response to them. Li Huayi uniquely substitutes the intense colours of Western painting with traditional ink to create an equally strong visual impact. At the same time, the warm tones of his colours demonstrate conformity to the Song Dynasty philosophy of a simple and lofty life. He highlights the simple Chinese ink work by incorporating large patches of colour , a technique taken from Western painting methods; this method advances the painting to a higher realm and induces reverence for the dense solid mountain rocks. This ingenious portrayal adopts the aesthetical concepts of the Song Dynasty literati who believed in the integration of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, all of whom saw beauty in the simple and elegance in the mundane. Upholding nature to be the best master, the artist offers us a contemporary reinterpretation of the beauty of Northern Song Dynasty landscape painting.

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