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


LIU YE (B. 1964)
signed in Chinese and dated and signed ‘2002 YE’ (lower right)
acrylic and oil on canvas
100 x 80 cm. (39 3/8 x 31 ½ in.)
Painted in 2002
Schoeni Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Guangdong Museum of Art, The First Triennial of Chinese Arts, exh. cat. Guangzhou, China, 2002 (illustrated, p. 63).
Schoeni Art Gallery, Beijing Inaugural Exhibition: Contemporary Paintings by 33 Artists and 10th Anniversary Celebration, exh. cat, Hong Kong, 2002 (illustrated, p. 67).
Schoeni Art Gallery, Liu Ye: Red, Yellow, Blue, exh. cat., Hong Kong, 2003 (illustrated, p. 23).
Hatje Cantz, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonné: 1991-2015, cat ras., Ostifildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, p. 296).
Guangzhou, China, Guangdong Museum of Art, The First Triennial of Chinese Arts, 2002
Beijing, China, Schoeni Art Gallery, Beijing Inaugural Exhibition: Contemporary Paintings by 33 Artists and 10th
Anniversary Celebration, 2002
Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, Schoeni Art Gallery: 10th Anniversary Exhibition, 2002
Beijing, China, Schoeni Art Gallery, Liu Ye: Red, Yellow, Blue, 2003. This exhibition later travelled to Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, 2004.

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Lot Essay

"In [Liu Ye’s] works, we can find images of history, reality, art and life. The uniqueness of these images is that they are taken out of context: they are themselves but at the same time not themselves. Therefore a search for a simple corresponding relationship between these images and their meanings could end dangerously in vain." – Pi Li, “Liu Ye – Pictorial Writing in the Era of Images”, 2003

While the girl in Red No. 2 exudes an air of childhood innocence, the woman in Blue is shockingly adult. Her large head still imbues her with a doll-like appearance, but her figure is slim and curvaceous, and she delicately lifts up her shirt to reveal her bare breasts to us, the viewers. The entire scene feels shockingly scandalous and improper, immediately positioning the viewer as a voyeur, complicit in her cheeky act of self-exposure.

In 2000, Liu Ye began to work on an informal series of paintings featuring nymph-like girls and women, often in provocative poses and various states of undress. Over the next decade, Liu Ye painted many of these erotic works, often featuring Lolita-esque figures that are more adult than the little girls that appear in Red No. 2 and other works. While the girl in Red No. 2 has shortened, doll-like arms and stocky legs, the nymphets in his more erotic works have curvy, seductive figures and long limbs, their delicate hands grasping whips, rods, and articles of clothing, exuding an air of sexual knowledge.

Many of Liu Ye’s paintings feature nostalgic references to the past. The girl’s hairstyle and features are evocative of Chinese vintage posters from the 1930s, specifically the pre-WWII “cigarette girl” advertisements produced in Shanghai. The girl’s carefully coiffed hair, delicate arched eyebrows, red lips and rouged cheeks are styled in a similar manner to the beautiful women that lounged gracefully on Shanghai cigarette posters, exuding a worldly, modern elegance. Yet the scandalous way in which she pulls up her blouse is more overtly sexual than the demure Shanghainese girls, and this action is more reminiscent of the American pin-up posters produced during the same era. Pin-up artists created illustrations for mainly male audiences, depicting women captured in various comedic or sultry poses. Liu Ye has done the same, injecting his work with an element of unorthodox, adult humor.

The mixing of adult and childlike themes is trademark of Liu Ye’s work, and displays the artist’s interest in exploring challenging, contradictory subjects. Liu Ye’s father was a writer of children’s books, and from an early age Liu Ye was exposed to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and classic stories such as Cinderella and Thumbelina. As Liu Ye’s himself recalls, “It was politically dangerous to read such books in those days. However, these fantastic stories with their beautiful illustrations opened up a new and wonderful world to me.” Yet the darkness of these classic stories also made an impact on the artist – addressing as they did adult themes such as sex, death and violence.

Some critics have interpreted Liu Ye’s more adult works as explorations of the subconscious. For example Zhu Zhu wrote in his essay about Liu Ye, “Seen as a metaphor of external reality, we can say that it points to a growth environment in which desire and reverie are suppressed. Understood from a different angle, we can regard it as a dramatic expression of one man’s inner conflicts.” Yet the slightly surreal mixing of innocence and adulthood in Liu Ye’s work may also be seen as another expression of visual ambiguity, defying analysis and interpretation.

Blue is dominated by a featureless plane of colour, a rich, vibrant shade of cobalt that doubles as sky. Only the details of an aeroplane give this away – without the perfect horizontal line of the plane’s contrails lending a sense of depth to the work, it would be difficult to tell whether the field of blue signified a surface or a space. As Liu Ye himself states, “Actually, there’s a tension in my paintings between the desire to be abstract and the need to borrow from the concrete to convey meaning.”

Art critic Karen Smith examines the role that these muses play in his work, and our interpretation of them. She writes, “Liu Ye implies that her beauty, great though it is, is fragile, fleeting, and that it is this fragility that induces the impulse to assert, to control and dominate, either using feminine wiles or the whip which he has her carry on occasion. […] Feminists might want to denounce a man who creates and contemplates such images on the charge of being a voyeur, of indulging his own fantasies, but to know Liu Ye is to know his capacity for empathy; he is on his heroine’s side, not against her.”

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