JIA AILI (B. 1979)
JIA AILI (B. 1979)


JIA AILI (B. 1979)
signed and dated ‘JAL 2014.’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
154 x 149 cm. (60 5/8 x 58 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2014
Art Seasons Gallery, Singapore
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Jia Aili was born in Dandong, Liaoning Province, China in 1979. The northeastern city is separated from North Korea by only the Yalu River, a rather problematic distance as the people on his side have been waiting since the 1980s for opening and reform in North Korea to help develop the heavy industry in Liaoning. However as of present day, people in Dandong are still waiting for prosperity to arrive on the far side, for the border to open, and for the revitalization of import and export shipping through Dandong. This endless interminable wait for an unknown outcome seems to have informed the world-view of Jai Aili's work - The world seems always on the verge of great change, the main actors only just waiting for their opportunity to take part in a transformation that will set the world on its head.

Untitled at first glance seems very much in the familiar Jia Aili style, with a lone individual walking through a preposterous world. A closer look, however, reveals an unusual narrative. A shaft of bright color, so rarely used in the artist's early work, now slants down from the upper right, while the broad strokes of Jia's oils mix and churn to produce a multidimensional space. Untitled continues Jia's use of the straight, level lines seen in his Wasteland series, while adding perspective effects and new surreal themes and viewpoints.

In the foreground, we no longer see the familiar crumbling walls and broken tiles. As our gaze penetrates to the giant skeletal arms that reach from underneath the horizon, and the chaos behind, we cannot help but feel echoes of the kind of time and space found in a Dali painting. The skeleton grasps a red fireball figure from behind, but both are hidden behind the floating city and the person in the hazmat suit. In a composition full of prophetic signs and symbols, the figure in the protective suit, who carefully holds a white package, seems uncertain whether he should continue toward the floating city and its Russo-Soviet architecture. Jia Aili, along with some artists from former communist-bloc countries, such as Adrian Ghenie from Romania or Neo Rauch from the former East Germany, uses a system of visual schema familiar from the past. While it appears in different contexts in their work, each of them nevertheless possess a unique viewpoint, and presents new generations with a different perspective for understanding their world and their history.

The artist admits that “in quite a number of my works, there is this figure with a burning head, and next to him, a skeleton that seeks to embrace him. In [his] imagination, this is the only way to constitute a relatively whole entity, because wherever there is life and youth, it coexists with the mirror image of death. ” The image of a burning red figure began to form in Jia's mind in 2006, and took definite shape in 2011. In Untitled, this figure, as a fiery red sphere, again comes in collision with the death's-head skull that also often appears. Here however, the giant skull and the red sphere create powerful visual impact by appearing on an abnormally large scale, looming large beside the nearby buildings. The brushwork in the right arm of the skeleton continues the signature lightning-stroke style of Jia's Wasteland series, the firm, vigorous strokes reflecting the artist's strong personal style. Intriguingly, the brushstrokes suggest those skeletal arms reach out underneath the city, but whether the intent is to support that floating city, or to drag it beneath the water remains unknown.

The Colossus by Francisco de Goya evokes a similar reference here, in the exaggerated proportions of the skeleton that reaches toward the city; in each work, a giant figure stands in contrast to the lowly human denizens of the painting, who display their tenacity as they struggle and hope to survive in the midst of these extraordinary scenes. Jia Aili has explained the illusions he produces in his works: “A lot of painters will produce an illusion, but then they let the viewer easily settle into their illusion. Sometimes I don't want that illusion to be quite so comfortable: I want it to trigger some thinking on the part of the viewer. If they can't quite adapt, it will produce some doubt in their minds. And if, as a result, they make an attempt to understand the more subtle perceptions and intentions behind the genuine creativity of an artist, then when they confront other stylistic trends or other forms of art, they will do so with a new perspective and understanding. ”

Jia Aili’s Untitled achieves an epic degree of tension through the juxtaposition of its many contradictory images. The central figure, in his hazmat suit, continues to pace forward, seemingly prepared and waiting to take action, yet at the same time, the painting expresses a kind of 'changelessness in the midst of change.' Through Untitled, Jia Aili guides viewers into the enigmatic world of his new generation and the way they imagine our future.

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