(B. 1964)
signed 'Liuye' in Pinyin; dated '98' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
22 x 29.2 cm. (8 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1998
Galerie Serieuze Zaken, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Christie's London, 1 July 2008, Lot 365
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

Liu Ye creates visions of ambiguous and tautly contained emotions; his works are full of private symbolic motifs and mythologies, vibrating with rich and carefully balanced colours, all brought together by his own eccentric sense of humors and philosophical curiosity. Untitled (Lot 1217) is a doubly-exposed window of altered reality seen through two layers of crystallized red lens. The tonal variations in monochromatic red and its structured composition are at once homage and an audacious challenge to Piet Mondrian, whom Liu greatly admired. In this synthesis between fantasy and reality, Liu renders a politicized commentary in his use of dramatic red referencing the Cultural Revolution and once again creates an image of compelling magnetism.

The Competition (Lot 1218) is a sober, firm composition of formal and natural colours simulating the slick, glossy surface of Renaissance paintings in painstakingly flawless brushstrokes. Liu's foundation and inspiration from art, reality, fantasy and history, and his principles of art based on simple and elemental visual forms is adeptly epitomized in this earlier work. A contemporary twist on classical figures and forms of Greek athletes, the image is an exercise in aesthetic balance rendered with a romanticized temperament, and also a visual riddle depicting an ambiguous scene of either conflict or camaraderie tinged with vague erotic reverie.

Liu's idiosyncratic self-portrait Melancholy (Self-Portrait) (Lot 1219) is surrounded by allusions from European masters. Painter himself standing behind a trompe-l'eoil marble tabletop, the spilled glass of red wine, inscribed letter and non-directional hand gesture evokes the image of Marat from Jacques-Louis David's posthumous portrait. Apart from being the artist's introverted depiction of a private moment of sadness, the theme 'Melancholy' and use of instrumental symbols could also be referential to the allegorical engraving by Albrecht Durer illustrating a condition caused by the imbalance of the four humours that often manifests in intellectuals and creators, to which Liu may allude to in apt description of a moment when the artist waits for inspiration to strike. Ultimately, Liu does not necessarily suggest that the viewer can fully unlock the secrets of the composition. Instead he simply offers himself as an image of an artist, surrounded by objects of knowledge, history and art, with his solemn commitment to asserting his own place within that rich world.

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