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LIU YE (CHINA, B. 1964)
Painter and Model
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘YE 2010’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
80 x 100 cm. (31 1/2 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2010
Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, USA
Private Collection, USA
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Bamboo Bamboo Broadway, Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, USA, 2012 (illustrated pp.7, 19 and 40).
Xiao Xiao, Art Bank, September 2012 (illustrated, p.45).
L'Officiel Art 79, Liu Ye, Paris, France, January 2014 (illustrated, p. 57).
Hatje Cantz Verlag, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonne 1991-2015, Ostfildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, pp. 222-223 and 344).
Beijing, China, Eastation Gallery, Portraits, 2011.
New York, USA, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Bamboo Bamboo Broadway, 2012.

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Lot Essay

The figure of the small female rabbit character Nijntje (Miffy), created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna, makes frequent appearances in paintings by Liu Ye, where they are transformed into projections of his own self-image. The two subjects of Liu's Painter and Model appear almost as mirror images of each other, and facing the viewer rather than each other, they seem to maintain their mutual distance without interacting, even as each echoes the other. Time seems to stand still in the atmosphere surrounding these figures, and a kind of quiet energy grabs out attention; changing the tiniest aspect of this clear and rigorous composition would probably destroy its balance and order. The student uniform worn by the 'model' emphasizes innocence, while the symmetry of her round collar further heightens the sensed feeling of order. The image of the 'painter,' with his brushes and palette, appears in Liu's work once again here. As both an artist and the artist's subject, there is a strong reference to Liu Ye himself, even while the fixed and unchanging expression might be seen as a kind of mask, representing the artist's pursuit of a lasting order, his restraint in emotional expression, or a kind of lonely introspection.
In the words of Paul Moorhouse, curator of the British National Portrait Museum, the fictional characters Liu Ye portrays, whether male or female, sailors in uniform, or Miffy the rabbit, all represent “the guise of his various encrypted selves”. By combining narrative images with geometrically constructed scenes, “Liu both celebrates and questions the alternative modernist tradition he admires.” The somewhat puzzling mysteriousness of his paintings, and their rebellious independence, perhaps results from his refusal to adhere to any particular theory or trend as he persists in creating high art and demanding only truthfulness to himself.
Liu's treatment of Miffy the rabbit in Painter and Model is a great departure from the original cartoonish character and its vivid treatment in black lines and primary colors. In both form and spirit it is closer to abstraction, and appears here in a mostly grey palette. Chinese art critic Zhu Zhu, in his essay Internalizing the Abstract, held that Liu Ye's shift in color palettes during this period implied that “Mondrian has become a ghostly presence,” and that Liu's works should be understood through Eastern aesthetics of 'shadow.' “The object is placed in a dark atmosphere, for a feeling of time that is far beyond reality, where memory and fantasy can be nurtured, yet it can all be made to disappear without a trace.”
In terms of visual form, the same soft light seen in many classical paintings seems to be projected downward from the upper left, in a style suggesting the indoor scenes of Vermeer. The main figure of the painter is simplified and expressed like a cylindrical shape in a still-life painting, its harmonious geometrical proportions blended into the simple grey background to form a poetic whole. The true inner meanings of this seemingly tranquil and stable world, however, are not open to viewers; they can only receive hints about it through relationships between the things inside. The play of light and shadow across the painter's enigmatic face adds to the sense that there are complex moods here even though they remain deep, hidden, and impenetrable. This coolly ambiguous layer of Liu Ye's works conveys an ineffable state of mind; this is in fact their most touching aspect, as if sparking the invisible chemistry that exists somewhere in the depths of our subconscious minds.

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