HAO LIANG (B. 1983)
Butterfly City
signed in Chinese (lower right)
ink and colour on silk
167.5 x 98.5 cm. (66 x 38 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2010
Private collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Christie’s Shanghai, 25 April 2015, lot 116
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
My Humble House Art Gallery, Discovery Art at Le Meridien Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan, 2010, (illustrated, pp.70-71).
My Humble House Art Gallery, Nest Image, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, p.108).
Chinese Art Books Co., LTD., Chinese Contemporary Art News 2011 Sep. No.82, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, unpaged).
Taipei, Taiwan, Huashan 1914.Creative Park, Polyphony-The Exhibition of next Generation of Artists as Superstars, 2011.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

"With cities it is as with dreams, everything imaginable can be dreamt of, but even the most unexpected dream is a mystery that conceals a desire or the reverse, a fear."
Excerpt from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Butterfly City was inspired by Italian writer Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities. The novel is framed around a conversation between the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan and Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo. As both shared their travel stories, the conversation led to the pair describing their fantasy cites and the ideal qualities that each place should possess – almost as if they were describing their ideal brides. This seminal novel was lauded as “the last love poem to cities.”

One city in particular – Clarice, rejuvenated itself after centuries of decline. The novel described this miracle as a “insignificant pupa transforming into an elegant butterfly.” Hao Liang used this glorious city as a blueprint, dismantled its ancient schematics, and injected it with modern ideologies and his personal philosophies. The result is Butterfly City — an alluring painting on silk that is steeped in fantastical narratives. From the vantage point of a bird’s eye view, this epic story unfolds with butterflies fluttering around like flower petals falling; bright red roofs signaling the contentment of the inhabitants; the steeple bringing attention to the church and its faithful followers; the obelisk symbolising human civilisation; the city wall indicating political stability. However, Clarice is not a bustling city teeming with people. Instead, the streets are void of any traces of humans. The only creatures roaming the town are the countless butterflies. Their wings cast shadows onto the walls of the city as if saying that the Clarice of a bygone era has metamorphosed into a butterfly, and what the viewers can see in this work is not the perfect incarnation of the ancient city, but a frame frozen in time that only exists in memory.

A butterfly goes through four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. At each stage it takes on a different form and in literature the butterfly is often used as a metaphor for reincarnation where a cyclical transformation beyond life and death is achieved. Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher from the 4th century BC, philosophised the nature of reality when he woke up from a dream in which he was a butterfly. In the folktale The Butterfly Lovers, the winged creatures are also seen as a spiritual agent that can transcend life and death as well as time and space. Its supernatural attributes are likened to the power of love — the butterfly is a symbol of eternal devotion. In Butterfly City, Hao Liang depicted the cycle of rise and fall of a city through the symbolism of butterflies. As the artist rendered the fluttering wings of the butterflies, a sense of life is captured with great verisimilitude. This animated spirit is juxtaposed with the stillness of a city frozen in time. These contradictory imageries blur the boundary between the virtual and the real. As a result, the mysterious relationship between the city and dreams that Calvino spoke of in his novel is vividly materialised in Hao Liang’s work. This elegiac sentiment is echoed in Northern Song Dynasty poet Su Shi’s verses, “In this northern town, lights from dying embers are dimming. Like butterflies, the falling petals twirl in the wind”.

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