LIU YE (B. 1964)
LIU YE (B. 1964)

Mondrian in London

LIU YE (B. 1964)
Mondrian in London
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘Liu ye 2001’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
150 x 150 cm. (59 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2001
Chinese Contemporary, London, UK
Private Collection, China
Anon. Sale, Poly Beijing, 2 June 2010, lot 1905
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Chinese Contemporary, Liu Ye: Fellini, A Guardsman, Mondrian, The Pope and My Girlfriend. exh. cat., London, UK, 2001 (illustrated, p. 23).
Schoeni Art Gallery, Liu Ye: Red, Yellow, Blue, exh. cat., Hong Kong, 2003 (illustrated, p. 7).
China National Convention Center, Arario, Today Art Museum, The Revival of Tradition: Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition. exh. cat. Beijing, China, 2012 (illustrated, p. 68 & p. 95).
Christoph Noe (ed.), Hatje Cantz, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonne: 1991-2015, Ostfildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, plate 01-11, p. 300).
London, UK, Chinese Contemporary Gallery, Fellini, A Guardsman, Mondrian, The Pope and My Girlfriend, 2001.
Beijing, China, China National Convention Center, Arario, Today Art Museum, Reshaping History: Chinart from 2000 to 2009, April – June 2010.

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Lot Essay

In Mondrian in London, Liu Ye revisits one of the well-documented icons of his visual lexicon, which is the work of Piet Mondrian; Composition II with Red Blue and Yellow hangs on an otherwise bare wall. For the artist, "[t]he appearance of Mondrian's paintings within my own paintings is spiritual. His paintings are so simply conceived with the most basic colours and vertical and horizontal lines. I also wish to address the question of simplicity". Indeed, we see Mondrian’s own emphasis on balance and geometry particularly manifested in Liu Ye’s post-2000 paintings. Mondrian in London is a remarkable example of this influence, with the vertical shadow the left of the painting and the horizontal line of the foreground, together with the soft pink cast on the wall, corresponding with Composition II with Red Blue and Yellow. This vigorous adherence to line and form, not only constitutes the foundation of Liu Ye’s more recent paintings, but in this case, also gives his work an uncanny effect.
The world of Mondrian in London, cast in an atmospheric pink glow across its sparse interior, likewise evokes the poetic domestic spaces of Johannes Vermeer. The pared-down environment of Mondrian in London only seeks to heighten the importance that light plays in this work and is clearly a focal point of Liu Ye’s. The strong light source from the left of the painting brings to mind Vermeer’s The Art of Painting), which is an imaginary staging of the artist painting in his studio. This idea of self-reflexivity is echoed in Mondrian in London, in the moment whereby the viewer becomes aware of looking at a painting of a painting, giving the work its surreal effect. Liu Ye’s consciously constructed spaces are evidently more about the symbolic representation of the inner being than that of a space that exists in the real world, much like the quiet interiors of Danish painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi; Liu Ye himself freely admits that “I live in an artificial world, in my own art world, which is very rich and multi-layered.”
Liu Ye’s constant integration of defining motifs from various sources into his paintings results in an intertextuality that simultaneously opposes the past, yet recognises its value. He demonstrates this in Mondrian in London by combining his own understanding and reimagination of Western visual theories, with personal references to his childhood and culture to effect an innovative and highly distinct style that has become the hallmark of his oeuvre. The dominant use of reds and pinks in this work are for the artist, not one filled with political meaning, but a way to inject his own childhood memory of growing up in post-Cultural Revolution China: “I grew up in a world of red: the red sun, red flags, red scarves... As a child, I did not know the symbolic meaning of all these things. I just took them for granted and accepted them passively…” Similarly, the soldier in this painting is evidently based on the Queen’s Guards that stand outside Buckingham Palace in London, but also conjure up the toy soldiers who inhabit the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen that Liu Ye’s father, who was an author of children’s literature, exposed him to. “These fantastic stories with their beautiful illustrations opened up a new and wondrous world” to the artist, but also undoubtedly opened him up to their darker undercurrents; the face of the soldier, obfuscated from the viewer, lends a sense of mystery that is tempered by a playfully extruded tongue, while the stark vertical line formed by his bayonet that shoots up beside him, connotes a sense of danger and violence.
Like many of his paintings, Mondrian in London displays an irresolvable tension between an imagined and fantastical narrative, and the representation of concrete objects consciously chosen by the artist, arranged in a compositional rigour that comprises of Liu Ye’s transparent layers of soft colours in his later works, with an arrangement of objects and figures outside of reality and a structure of lines. The resultant effect is one of stillness – a moment to pause and absorb the profound enigma of the human condition, outside the realm of abstraction.

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