LIU YE (B. 1963)
LIU YE (B. 1964)

Leave Me in the Dark (S)

LIU YE (B. 1964)
Leave Me in the Dark (S)
signed and dated ‘Ye 09’ (lower right); dated ‘09’, signed in Chinese, and signed ‘Ye’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
80 x 60 cm. (31 ½ x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2009
Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, USA
Acquired form the above by the present owner, November 2009
Sperone Westwater Gallery, Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark, exh. cat., New York, USA, 2009 (Illustrated, p. 39).
Christoph Noe (ed.), Hatje Cantz, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonné: 1991-2015, cat ras., Ostifildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, p. 342).
New York, USA, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark, November – December 2009.

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Lot Essay

"I want to strip away as much of the feeling, narrative, and plot points as possible and rely on the foundations of the painting like scale, colour scheme, and composition. […] Narrative still exists, but it has been stripped down” – Liu Ye

On a quiet, snowy night, a figure stands alone, suitcase in hand. She wears a heavy coat and a scarf is wrapped around her head and neck. The entire work is pervaded with a sense of calm, with no suggestion of movement beyond the drifting snowflakes. The figure is in fact curiously stiff; her coat is a perfect tapering trapezoid, and her plaid paints two perfect rectangular columns. The dark suitcase next to her forms an almost abstract block, visually balanced by her black gloves and the elegant sweep of black hair across her brow.

Leave Me in the Dark (S) was painted in 2009, following Liu Ye’s breakup with his long-term muse and girlfriend. Between 2008 and 2010, Liu Ye painted a number of works focused on the theme of the traveller – always featuring a woman wearing a coat, accompanied by her suitcases. The work was first exhibited at a solo show with the same title, held at Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York City in 2009. In his review of the exhibition, art critic Robert C. Morgan wrote that “these paintings pursue a non-conformist, rear-guard image... Rather than conforming to a hackneyed style of figurative expressionism, Liu Ye reveals more controlled, refined, aspect of painting, one that is given to an implicit geometry.”

Indeed, there is a clear rationality of geometry, line and shape in this painting that is consistent throughout Liu Ye’s oeuvre. A preparatory sketch, dated to 2008, suggests that perhaps at one point the figure was to be positioned against a wall, with the edge of a windowsill visible to the left. Yet even in the sketch, Liu Ye’s keen interest in clarity of line and form is clear. There are few curves in this work beyond the oval of the woman’s face, and the rounded slope of her shoulders. As curator Paul Moorhouse describes, “[Liu Ye] interrogates the appearance of his chosen motifs, clarifying and exposing their hidden architecture.” Indeed, the figure in this work feels almost architectural in style, the forms that make up her body broken down into geometric components.

There is quietness to Liu Ye’s works, that make them feel as though they are still images from a film – a frozen moment that can only hint at what has happened before and what will happen afterwards. This quality is shared with Van Eyck’s and Vermeer’s paintings from the early Renaissance, where figures feel frozen in time in space. Liu Ye has cited the influence of these artists on his work, describing their “balance,” “quiet” and “intensity” as reasons for his interest.

When compared to Van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Arnolfini Portrait, Liu Ye’s paintings suggest a similar balance between realism and stylization. The figures are slightly stiff in their idealized poses, but overall the work exudes a feeling of compositional balance and emotional honesty. Art critic Zhu Zhu pointed out the element that links Liu Ye’s work to that of both Vermeer and Mondrian: “Once your gaze passes through surface boundaries, you can discover what is consistent in their works: timelessness, tranquillity, and purity – to an extent we could characterize it as a personal mysticism. It resists disorderly representations and the tug of literalism; it attempts to dance in unison with inherent rhythms of the cosmos, to pursue an ultimate spiritual order.”

Here, the bold primary colours that saturate so many of Liu Ye’s earlier works have been reduced to a slash of red lipstick, with no other hint of the reds, yellows and blues that Liu Ye so loves. Instead, layers of sheer glazed colour have been carefully applied to the canvas to create a complex symphony of hues. Warm and cool undertones create a richly layered piece, perhaps mirroring the complex emotions Liu Ye felt while painting this work. Whether the solitary figure has just arrived, or is about to depart is ambiguous. Has she just arrived after a long trip? Or is she bidding a final farewell before embarking upon a new journey? The title, Leave Me in the Dark (S) , provides few clues, leaving the interpretation up to the viewer, as in so many of Liu Ye’s best works.

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