Adept at penetrating ancient texts, during the creative process contemporary artist Hao Liang deconstructs and reassembles classic images, which he injects with modern concepts and his personal philosophy, to create a painting on silk in a fantasy narrative style. The metaphysical thoughts conveyed in Italian writer Italo Calvino's work Le Citt Invisibili and the exploration of the mutual transformation between literature and painting are the inspiration behind Hao Liang's Butterfly City (Lot 116). The painting alludes to a city in decline for many centuries which finally appears to "transform from a ragged pupa into a resplendent butterfly"-the glorious City of Clarice. With this literary masterpiece as his blueprint, Hao Liang takes the language of Chinese traditional art and, through the techniques of Song dynasty style detailed realistic painting, he outlines on the silk butterflies with different shapes hovering in space. Tracing the momentum of the butterflies flapping their wings, the eye of the observer drifts across the entire composition following the light source from bottom to top. Elements such as butterflies dancing like fallen flowers, the red-roofed houses in the background overlooking the city alludes to a life at ease, the churches represent sacred religious belief, the obelisk symbolising human civilization and the city wall implies political peace: all are of an otherworldly Arcadia.
The ancient philosopher Zhuangzi said, "Once I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamt of being a butterfly, fluttering here and there, indeed a butter fly." (From Chapter 2, "On the Equality of Things", Zhuangzi, Inner Chapters). Herein, the butterfly serves to encompass the philosophical implications of the interconnectedness of life and death, and the disregard for differences between self and things. Hence, Butterfly City is also a depiction of the artist's utopian views and through imagination he transforms himself into a butterfly soaring across the horizon. Transformation from such decay into mystery is a means of expression and is similar to surrealist artist Max Ernst's work High Oval Picture (Ruins) which was inspired by Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious mind. Within the mysterious scene of ruined buildings, and reflecting his own internal order and fantasy, the artist has arranged a mind-palace. Hence the two artists both convey the idea that dreams are interpretations of the human mind through the depiction of a mysterious scene and the use of symbolism, thus, enabling the ideas, unconscious mind, and dreams to meander as one within the illusory space of the painting surface.
As the observer's thoughts wander through the understated elegance of the artist's blue-black hues, which throw into relief the deeply quiet dreamscape of the city, the reflections of the moment of the butterfly fluttering its wings give the living creatures a realistic three-dimensionality, rendering the difficult distinction of what is and is not reality. The visual interest not only deepens the blurred connections between the city and the dreamscape featured in the literary work: it is also an incarnation of the co-existence of reality and illusion in life; this is the poetic wisdom of Hao Liang's artistic creation.