To enter into a Liu Ye painting has always been to enter into something of a fairy tale; the narratives or morals may not always be self-evident, but the rules are clear: the artist creates spaces full of ambiguous and tautly contained emotions, full of private symbolic motifs and mythologies, brought together by the artist's own eccentric sense of humor. His subjects are often children, often standing in for himself, and appear as both perennially innocent and wise beyond their years.
In the three works featured here across the Evening and Day sales, Il Riassunto (Lot 509), Rising Sun (Lot 1062), and Boogie Woogie, Little Girl In New York (Lot 510), we can see the full arc of Liu Ye's career, his development as an artist and the evolution of a deeply personal philosophy of art and life.
Liu Ye's study of art history and his deep affection for his biggest influences haunt most of his paintings to varying degrees of explicitness. Having spent several years studying and living in Holland and Germany, the varied influences of Western Modernism and Surrealism, Dutch masters and Dutch miniatures can be clearly seen in his earliest works. Il Riassunto from 1993 is a meticulously detailed painting of a dreamlike scene. The ever-present influence of Vermeer can be found in the dramatic natural lighting that flows from the interior window (fig 1). The nude female on the left wears a hairpiece that appears to be another quotation from Dutch painting. The frontal stage-like quality of the composition and the careful geometry of the horizontal and vertical lines are all acknowledgements of Liu's study of graphic design and his great affection for Piet Mondrian, further eluded to by the inclusion of what appears to be Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie in the shadows of the room. Surrealist elements abound in this dense tableau: the nude "Vermeer girl" quietly handles a human skull; another nude female enters the room, standing formally with a large open text, as if to make an announcement; a tiny airplane has crashed at the edge of the shadows. A cracked mirror at the center of the composition reveals the reflection of another figure, a male, possibly the artist, laughing, shouting, or screaming, adding an element of restless angst to the false normalcy of this waking dream.
Even Liu Ye's technique has an old-masters feel, his oil paints built up into rich, complex glowing colors mimicking an encaustic technique. His shadows are full of purples and blues, the sky transitions from a light green to a bold teal. In Il Riassunto, Liu Ye can already be seen as a mature artist whose impulse towards meticulousness, technical achievements and ordered compositions are at odds with the chaotic emotional elements that literally hide within the shadows. The painting has the self-seriousness of a young artist, battling his demons and seeking a style all his own, an endeavor that Liu Ye cannot resist gently mocking through with his absurdist sense of drama. Already he is showing his talents as a mature artist working with the basic elements of his painting style, a combination of artistic seriousness and a light humor guiding the skills and motifs that he would further refine throughout his career.