(Chinese, B. 1965)
signed in Chinese; dated '1994. 3.'; signed 'Liu Wei' in Pinyin (lower right)
watercolour on paper
24 x 35.2 cm. (9 1/2 x 13 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1994
Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

In his deliberately provocative and derelict depictions of Swimmers series paintings, Cynical Realist painter Liu Wei evolved into an increasingly expressionistic painter fixated on the underlying tensions between the psychological and bodily urges of everyday life. For Liu, every brushstroke relates to an ephemeral spiritual and material reality, fraught with impulses and experiences both high and low.

Here the abnormalities of the figures' features are strangely normalized, reminding us of Liu's central tenet: his critique of a society in which idealism has been eliminated lends itself to an environment so corrupt, that it becomes written into the flesh itself. As the enfant terrible of the Chinese avant-garde, Liu focused on the uncontrollable impulses that run counter to a "civilized", decorous society. Central to art is the notion of carnal flows, here fully materialized in the blunt exploration of unkempt corporal flesh, the "meat" of life that is quite literally at once nourishing and repugnant to our senses.

Similar to George Grosz's use of psychological details to announce social ills, Liu's magnification of observed details and attention to textures and surfaces is a strategy to reveal alternative, subconscious realities. As such, this fine Swimmers watercolor extends Liu's Freudian provocation, suggesting the psychological tensions and urges that underlie even the most innocuous of circumstances, radically portraying Mao not as the iconic leader of a nation, but as simply a man, enjoying a swim. Liu continues to explore, through his expressive painting style, the values and mentality of the contemporary, marked by their iconoclasm, oblique humor, and sardonic view toward the transition from Communism to industrialization and modernization.

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