Liu Wei, as a Post-Sense Sensibility artist born in the 70s, is considered a formidable figure in Chinese contemporary art. Began in 2006, Liu's Purple Air series features strong urban themes, with cityscapes depicted in digitalised lines, architectural structures of abstract geometrics, and vivid, progressive colours, resulting in expressions of contemporary urban aesthetics.
Various segments of Beijing are meticulously extracted from the artist's memories, with realistic images of the metropolis digitally treated to create abstract effects. The images are then transferred onto canvases, with colours indicative of personal sentiments applied to convey metaphors the artist has conjured up for a realistic society. Specific chapters in history are narrated by each city, with rich humanities and cultures contained within. Not only are particular systems and political forces reflected by the enormous unit that each city represents, various individual entities are also contained within. Through the depictions of cities, Liu's Purple Air (Lot 117) deals with the relationship between art and the public domain and also attempts to spark within audiences' emotional awareness for the cities they dwell in. This method of deconst ruction and reconstruction echoes with American artist Gordon Matta-Clark's work, with urban phenomena reflected on altered architectural landscapes. This assertive and creative approach opted by both Liu and Matta-Clark expresses a form of revolt against the reality of autocratic power.
Purple Air is set against a grey background, with the image corresponding to the ancient Chinese saying that 'the purple air comes from the east', which indicates an auspicious omen. The artwork's many black and coloured vertical lines are used to convey modern skyscrapers' towering and overlapping qualities. The overlapping visual effect allows the viewer to freely switch their focal point according to the shifting rhythms projected by the lines, as the interconnected link between the visual forms and the background is subsequently experienced. This illustrative approach using visual displacement is reminiscent of Vorticism, where solid and powerful lines are used to depict states constructed by architectural structures. With visual conventions overthrown, a dynamic vigor driven by the Industrial Revolution is demonstrated through the compositional visual juxtaposition.
Utilising his visual rhetoric, composed of vivid colours, urban realities are concealed behind the digitally treated lines. In the background of the painting is a sun that is surrounded by a pink glow, creating unnatural lights and shadows which give the black and white lines on the painting a sense of visual rhythm. The relation formed by the interlocking buildings, trees, and sun encourages multiple interpretations. With overall changes constantly taking place, regardless of where one's visual focus is fixed on, viewers are seemingly transported to a bustling megalopolis by this dazzling illusion.