Rising Sun (Lot 1062), painted in 1999, one of the highlights from an An Important Swiss Collection of Chinese Avant-garde Art, signals several important shifts in Liu Ye's career and practice. First, he has begun to focus on children, some of them at times explicitly resembling himself, as the avatars of his private fairy tales. Second, his compositions have taken on an explicitly stage-like quality, further highlighting the play-like atmosphere and allowing Liu Ye to slyly disown the seriousness of his paintings. Third, having returned from several years abroad in Beijing, Liu Ye has begun to focus on a series of comically heroic and adventuresome young sailors as his dominant imagery and as an answer to the changing world around him.
Like many of his contemporaries, Liu Ye reaches back into the history and experiences of his youth in order to understand the present. Liu Ye's own father was a children's book author during the Cultural Revolution, and these paintings echo that family history, featuring children engaging in adult exploits, with all the accompanying misadventures such a scenario might imply.
In these works, red, largely absent from his earlier works, increasingly dominates the canvas. In Rising Sun, the animated pyramid of figures resembles those of Chinese propaganda images, but their expressions, rather than depicting a fearless optimism, show wonder and awe. The sky and the sun are a dramatic, rich red, a further reference to Cultural Revolution, where not only was red the color of the revolution, but the sun itself was often a symbol for Chairman Mao (and the Chinese people, like sunflowers, turned towards him). The title of the painting asserts that the sun is rising; however, in absence of that direction, there is no way of knowing whether the sun is setting or rising, and perhaps more to the point, the children's backs are turned to the sun, the airplanes are heading in an opposite direction, and, isolated on a narrow cliff surrounded by crashing waves, it is not clear that these young romantics are going anywhere at all.
Liu had stated that his return to his home country was a bit of a shock. Several years of "open door" policies had led to rapid urban development in Beijing and an increasingly consumerist-oriented society. Indeed, his country suddenly seemed powerfully oriented towards an unknown future, seeming to leave both the idealism and ideologies of communism behind. The figures are full of a spontaneous but directionless conviction; a new sun may be rising, but it remains unclear where it will lead them. Rising Sun then makes for a deceptively innocuous and playful scene, evidence of Liu Ye's romantic disposition but also his questioning of the presumptions of the new era, reducing it to the folly of child's play, both in contrast to and as an extension of the futile exploits of the Cultural Revolution. Liu Ye's childlike world of misadventure in fact serves as a clever and insightful mirror to the uncertainty and anxiety felt towards the dubious priorities and politics of a new China.