Liu Wei was born in Beijing in 1972. He graduated from the oil painting department of the China Academy of Art (formerly the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts) in 1996. As one of the most promising and accolated visual artists in the 1970s, Liu Wei produced numerous works in a range of media, including oil painting, video, and installation. He is one of the most iconic Chinese contemporary artists of his generation.
Liu Wei's works employ an international artistic language, deeply influenced by Western conceptual art; for example, the idea of the readymades put forth by Marcel Duchamp or elements of French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction are apparent in Liu’s work. Liu Wei investigates questions related to power, environment, urbanisation, architecture, among other related topics—these prominent issues reflect his concern for society. Liu Wei positions himself as a visual artist, tackling this subject matter and intertwining it with religion, philosophy, literature, and art. Through his adept use of installation, two dimensional art, as well as projection, the boundaries of these media are thus expanded. As a result, new ways of thinking emerge from these visual experiences.
Encapsulating the original concept of Liu Wei’s most celebrated series, Purple Air 1-1; Purple Air 1-2; Purple Air 1-3 (Lot 56) are the first three paintings in the Purple Air series. These individual works show the vitality and energy of the city of Beijing from different perspectives. Painted in stylised grey tones and broken down into densely packed geometric shapes, the city scape rises up against the light grey backdrop of the sky. In this season’s auction, these three extremely important works are gathered together and presented in this rare combination. Each embodies the unique beauty of the abstract cityscape; together, they create an astonishing visual impact. Their rhythmic composition and colour tones capture the dynamism of a metropolis in 21st century.
“Reality is whatever you can readily see. You cannot actually create anything new because everything already exists. It is primarily about how you look at it: from every angle, from the particular angle which you most prefer, or from a particularly unflattering angle. You can use your own methods to accurately represent this angle. When you depict it, it might be beautiful, even if in reality that may not be the case. Perhaps it contains a certain sense of thriving vitality. That is why it is called Purple Air. In ancient China, if you spotted purple air in a particular place, appearing grey and smoggy, it perhaps indicates that the area is teeming with life. It may have a lot of problems, but it is thriving.” (Liu Wei interview, Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China's New Generation Artists, Shanghai People's Publishing House, 2009)
The city can be considered a blueprint for human activity. A building is architecture, but more importantly it is the component of the city where people congregate. The artist attempts to capture the Beijing city from his memory, as if he is magnifing digital images to reveal new and pixelated vistas. These elements are then arranged as countless lines to construct an abstract composition. As a result, a new visual language, both innovative and mutable, is born. Through his repeated reconstructions of Beijing’s urban landscape, Liu Wei investigates the relationship between art and the public space. It is a reflection of his contemplation on urban aesthetics and the social environment. At the same time, it also provides an entrance for the viewers to reflect on their sense of belonging within the city.
As a social researcher who witnessed the process of urbanisation in China, Liu Wei uses visual misplacement effects to represent the vitality that is associated with the industrialisation of a city. It is an exploration of the literati sentiment that runs deep within urban aesthetics.