XU LEI (B. 1963)
XU LEI (B. 1963)

Evening Dance

XU LEI (B. 1963)
Evening Dance
Scroll, mounted and framed
Ink and colour on paper
59 x 47 cm. (23 ¼ x 18 ½ in.)
Executed in 1993

Acquired by the present owner from Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, in 1995

Hong Kong, Alisan Fine Arts, Xu Lei The Mystery of Absence, 14-31 March, 1995

Xu Lei The Mystery of Absence, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 41;
Xu Lei, Hebei Education Publishing House, Hebei, 2003, p. 5;
Xu Lei, Culture and Art Publishing House, Beijing, 2013, p. 104

Conversation with Xu Lei
C: Christie’s X: Xu Lei (interview conducted in Chinese)

C: Boundless and Evening Dance were painted in the 1990s, could you elaborate on the background?
X: The year 1989 marked many turning points. The China Avant-Garde exhibition was a reality check for artists with ideals and aspirations. In the early 1990s, artists became increasingly introspective and many chose to retreat into themselves. With this came the Close Up, Cynic Art, and New Literati Painting movements. Looking back, the common motif of decadence clearly emerged. I believe decadence always makes a comeback at the end of a century, like a cycle. These movements did not affect me, for I am not a realist artist in public nor private. With the knowledge of modernism, I do not aspire to follow the old, formal conservatism. However, I did not manage to escape from the epidemic of decadence of the time. Decadence for me is a temperament that is quintessentially Chinese, which can be likened to the Southern Chinese sentiment of nobility and negativism. It colours my worldview with a nihilistic attitude. Hence I chose to enter a state of self-confinement, where I would leave people and time behind. The curtains and screens in my paintings shield me from the viewer and simultaneously obstruct the view. More importantly, they are conceptual devices that began to appear in all my paintings. Inspired by old photographs, I hoped to return to the good old times of theatrical glamour and illusion by creating scenes or metaphors. From here I eventually found my own system of visual representation. It was like wandering alone at night guided by the candlelight: quiet, accompanied by peace of mind, fear and hidden happiness. Boundless and Evening Dance were executed between 1982 and 1993 and are representative of my early work. In March 1995, my first solo exhibition was held at Alisan Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Boundless and Evening Dance were both exhibited then, Boundless being the cover of the catalogue.

C: What do the horse and crane symbolise in the paintings?
X: As the saying goes, winding paths lead to a secluded, enchanting view, which is also true of classical Chinese aesthetics. To veil something is to leave room for imagination – what is unsaid, unspoken is more powerful than what is presented. This is why the use of metaphor is important in the Chinese literary tradition: a white horse’s shadow across a crevice symbolises the passing of time, while the poet Qu Yuan uses the orchid as an allegory of his fate. I don’t often paint human figures in my work. The presence of man is hinted by the personified animals that were once kept by humans, expressing a sense of loss and displacement. In Boundless, the theme is eroticism. As love and desire are not directly articulated in Chinese culture, they are instead expressed using metaphors of natural elements. The visual symbols one sees in Boundless are related to this, a sublimation of the subconscious perhaps in psychoanalysis. In later works with similar subject-matter, I have replaced the lotus pod with an embroidered shoe, but the intention remains the same. In Evening Dance I attempt to express an emotion; with the setting sun, the crane is not as regal as that painted by Emperor Huizong of Song Dynasty. Its self-embracing pose resembles a kind of dance, probably embodying a sense of loss at the time.

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