Liu Wei is considered a member of China's so-called "Cynical Realists", painters who emerged from the malaise of the 1990s as some of China's most insightful and intuitive social observers. Drawing from their heavily disciplined academic training, these artists applied their vast technical skills not to the depiction of grand historical or didactic themes, but to the more ephemeral and experiential aspects of contemporary life.
His favorite images - dogs, children, landscapes, and businessmen - speak to a bucolic, bourgeois lifestyle, one that is ironically undermined by the artist's technique. The artist renders these subjects in a festering and often intentionally grotesque manner. For him, the rational surface of existence is undermined by irrational, gluttonous erotic urges. Liu often scribbles plaintive expressions in English across the surface of his paintings that are almost Freudian in their simple desires: "I like you", "I like pork", or "I like smoking". In this manner, Liu effectively embraces his own loss of idealism by bringing to the surface the repressed realities that lie immediately beneath the skin of experience. For Liu, every brushstroke relates to an ephemeral spiritual and material reality, fraught with impulses and experiences both high and low.
In the monumental triptych featured here (Lot 1505), Liu offers us a wildly organic vision of nature. The composition is carefully balanced by Liu's delicate sense of color and the variety of his technique. The painting is built up through a combination of washes and the subtle impasto of Liu's varied brushwork. Technically, no human figure is present, but the flesh tones that undulate through the lower half of the composition nonetheless suggest a human presence, and the work bristles with human emotions. Drawing the viewer into the painting is Liu's trademark "carnal flow", the swath of pink and red texture resembling freshly ground meat that alternates with the more "naturalistic" rendering of landscape. The white and grey washes that constitute the horizon seem to evoke misty mountains seen at a distance, while also seeming to rest on the surface on the composition, like a viral substance threatening to overtake the foregrounded "landscape".
In Liu's hands, even a superficially bucolic landscape setting is ripe with mortal tension and unrepentant desires, as though the material world itself is contagious, and contact with it inevitably unleashes crude haptic realities. The loss of idealism felt by Liu and his generation compelled them to explore anti-heroic and sometimes confrontational themes, dislodging the purpose of art from high-minded and heavy-handed themes and subjects, and instead exploring a much more personal and unconventional art practice. Liu has stated that "painting helps to relieve my own sense of helplessness and awkwardness". This image then is an abstracted "nature" - not a specific place but a vision into Liu's own worldview. For Liu, the exquisiteness of "beauty" cannot exist without the crude and grotesque, and it is in his on-going investigation into these oppositional urges that Liu explores and reveals the crass, poignant and hilarious nature of existence itself.