signed and dated 'Luo Zhongli 1991’ and signed in Chinese (lower right)
oil on canvas
160 x 200 cm. (63 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1991
Private collection, Asia
Unitas Publishing Co., UNITAS: A Literary Monthly Journal No. 108, Taipei, Taiwan, 1992 (illustrated, p. 166).

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Lot Essay

Human nature is a central theme in Luo Zhongli’s art. From his Realist style of the 1980s and explorations of folk mannerism in the 1990s to his shift towards a line-based style after 2000, the basic template for Luo’s paintings has been the down-to-earth sincerity of the Daba Mountain people and their way of life. His repeated elaborations upon this theme has been reflected in his adoption of different styles and techniques in different periods, as well as his penchant to pursue deeper study before creating new works. Since 2002, Luo’s paintings have entered the third period. He extracts the images of individuals and superposes them onto an abstract space of radial lines. Luo takes inspiration from traditional Chinese culture and folk arts; he draws on the artistic essences of clay sculpture, paper-cutting and shadow play, and distills them into colour and linear painting techniques that are rich in symbolism. In the choice of colours, Luo has also shifted to shimmering, neon-like surreal colours, merging them with the dramatic styling in his paintings. With sharp, striking lines and ingenious painting techniques, the artist creates remarkable paintings embodying contemporary avant-garde aesthetics.

Reviewing Luo Zhongli’s oeuvre, the mundane details of rural life and labour serve as the central subject of his works. The paintings depict the challenges in everyday life with humorous touches, providing a vivid portrayal of the purest joys in life. His work Reconciliation captures a delightfully comical scene on a summer day in the Daba Mountain. Be it the buffalos in heat at the centre, the mating ladybirds at the bottom left corner, or the pheasants giving chase at the top left corner, the painting illustrates the endless renewals of life in nature. Even the lotus flowers and seed heads, which highlight the beauty of the natural landscape, hint at the primitive desire in nature. The reproduction of life and the primitive desire are the most vital forces in the world. As the male buffalo is mounting the female buffalo, two innocent children mistake the mating for a fight and try to pull the buffaloes apart with all their might. Not far away, a boy is running towards the scene to help out. A comical scene from an ordinary rural landscape is encapsulated as a glimpse of life, and transposed onto the canvas by the artist. It is the best testimony to the notion that art comes from real life, and it draws from real life.

The Caves of Altamira in northern Spain is the site of the first prehistoric cave art discovered in human history. In the Upper Paleolithic period, humans had begun to record and praise the rigorous vitality of animals, such as the depiction of the powerful bison. With the dawn of the agricultural society in later periods, the bull became an essential source of productivity. The bull was a symbol of wealth, status, power and strength. In Reconciliation, Luo enlarges the proportion of the buffalos and places them at the centre of the painting, in an ode to the primitive forces of life and the awe-inspiring power of nature. The lively image of the naked boys evokes the shapes and formal elements of African art. The theme of reproduction also echoes the pursuit of happiness and the hopes for prosperity that are coreferential with primitivism.

Luo’s use of pure colours in his works call to mind the palettes in many paintings centred on religious motifs. From the contrasting colours of red and blue on the male buffalo, the viewer could almost feel the fever of its body and its incredible strength, while the rustic shade of blue gradually fades into the background. An array of colours are used on surface of the painting, where vibrant stripes are painted in distinct strokes reminiscent of the works of the French Neo-Expressionists. Luo Zhongli transforms the fragments of life and his affection for Daba Mountain into linear brushstrokes with profound symbolism and aesthetic value. The spontaneous lines intersect and run parallel in places, while the colours flow and swing in subtle gaps, accentuating the sense of dimension and rhythm in the composition. Amidst the intertwining colours is a feeling of simplicity that echoes the artist’s chosen theme.

Luo Zhongli’s choice of subjects somewhat coincides that of Jean-Francois Millet, one of Luo’s favourite painters during his years of studying overseas. Amidst the changing times and trends, Luo has remained steadfast in his concern for the farmers, and his portrayal of honest and simple ways of life. As Luo has said, “I’m not someone who succumbs to trends, and I always stick to my own ways of working. For an artist in particular, it’s a fine thing to excel in a single pursuit in one’s lifetime.” With his down-to-earth painting style, Luo seeks to shake the commercial age we live in, and inspire concern for the social class whose livelihoods are dependent on nature. It embodies the artist’s hopes of bringing people into the quiet, pastoral lands of warmth and sincerity.

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