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

Boy with Fish No. 2

LIU YE (B. 1964)
Boy with Fish No. 2
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ’98 Liu ye’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1998
Collection of the Artist
Private Collection, Beijing, China
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s New York, 17 September 2008, lot 5
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6 October 2009, lot 612
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Hatje Cantz Verlag, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonne 1991-2015, Ostfildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, plate 98-08, p. 281).

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Ada Tsui (徐文君)
Ada Tsui (徐文君)

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Lot Essay

Liu Ye's Boy with Fish No. 2 is an exceptionally rare work. According to the artist's catalogue raisonné, the subjects of child and fish had only appeared three times. There must be a compelling reason why the artist savours this labour of love so preciously. The picture is filled with hope and vitality that convey the strength of a resilient spirit. Completed in 1998, Liu Ye was 34 years old, and he had returned to Beijing after spending time studying overseas in Germany. It was during this time abroad that he decided to break the shackles that compartmentalised Chinese and Western art, so that a truly contemporary vision can be achieved through the fusion of traditional and progressive aesthetics. The imagery of Boy with Fish No. 2 is distinctive yet cryptic. Both the composition and the iconographic content are enigmas waiting to be solved. The work contains both realistic and surrealistic dimensions, and the artist intentionally inverted some of the colours in the palette as well as some of the symbols in the imageries. This subversion creates both visual and psychological dissonances that challenge viewers' expectations. The colours of the sky and the ocean are true to nature. But the colour red, which is conventionally used to represent the collective consciousness, has shifted from being in the background to representing the individual fish in the foreground. Goldfish is a freshwater fish. Yet, it appears in the ocean in this painting. In addition, the angel's wings also serendipitously appear where the dorsal fin of the fish is supposed to be — all the elements work in concert to paint an auspicious picture in which the fish is flying. The poetic imageries of Boy with Fish No. 2 is especially poignant when the main characters in the foreground are contrasted with a shower of falling fighter jets in the background. The romanticism expressed here is echoed in Su Shi's poem The Water Dragon Moans, "Upon close examination, what I thought were willow catkins were in fact drops of tears shed for those who had to part". The cherub rendered in Baroque palette seems to be a self-portrait of the artist — by referencing himself in the work, the painting resonates with its creator in a whimsical way. Read in conjunction with the fleet of fighter jets, the boy at sea can be interpreted as the patriot who puts the good of the nation in front of his personal needs. Compositionally, the gaze of the little boy forms a dialogue with the fighter jets, and indirectly as suggested by the angle of his head, he is also minding the fish in his arms. In the setting of the great blue sea, Liu Ye offers viewers a surrealistic journey.
Piet Mondrian's influence on Liu Ye can be abundantly found in his paintings. Mondrian's use of high-brightness and high-saturation colours as well as rational compositions constructed with precise horizontal and vertical lines have a tremendous impact on Liu Ye's artistic practice. His signature colour theory is also referenced in Boy with Fish No. 2. In fact, the entire painting is composed of the primary colours of red, yellow, blue — the goldfish is red, the light reflected off of the boy and the fighter jets are yellow, and the sea and the sky are blue. Even when Liu Ye does not directly appropriate Mondrian's works in his painting, the viewers can still decipher the De Stijl palette in his painting.
Perhaps only a genius like Liu Ye can combine the fervour of the Cultural Revolution with the dispassionate rationality of geometric abstraction. And only in Boy with Fish No. 2 can we see how an artist perfectly resolves contradictions in visual language, just like Bach resolves dissonances inherent in tonal music in The Well-Tempered Clavier. Liu Ye explained, "I am attempting to provide more than a single answer in my paintings. Yet, I do not possess such power. My solution is to provide space for the viewers to freely imagine and interpret''.

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