Liu Ye creates visions of ambiguous and tautly contained emotions; his works are full of private symbolic motifs and mythologies, vibrating with rich and carefully balanced colours, all brought together by his own eccentric sense of humour and philosophical curiosity. Liu addresses the subject of cultural hybridism, politics, parody and humour through his favored motif of children, perhaps encouraged by his own childhood; his father was a children's book author during the Cultural Revolution, and would smuggle Hans Christian Anderson anthologies home for the young artist to enjoy. Liu playfully composes his own children's tales that swing between wily passionate and destructive by imbuing his paintings with smirking references to the socio-political context.
Dressed in cotton-white blouse, mint green and wearing Mary Jane shoes, the little girl is accessorized with a bubble-gum pink bow. She tiptoes on the white flower, affectionately familiar to us as the affable character that often appeared in many of Liu's endearing fairy tales. Here, she takes a role as the lovable Thumbelina (Lot 1684). Though minimal in palette, the sweet melancholia seeps through in delicate layers of soluble tints, contoured to suggest Thumbelina's fragility. Embodying a different persona, the diluted washes are more muted in the silhouette in his nostalgic portrait of the Chinese actress of 1930s Ruan Lingyu (Lot 1685); her graceful presence disappearing and fading in pale blue tints, pastel blushes of beige and pink traces both her frail beauty and vulnerability.
Liu's nimble technicality and grasp for the personalities of mediums employed is indebted to his keen advocacy for institutional discipline that grounds as the skeleton to constantly evolving pictorial execution and concept. A foundation that derived from his inspiration from art, life, reality and history, his earlier work, The Red Roof (Lot 1644) adeptly epitomizes his principles in simplest and most elemental visual forms. If his latter works are instilled with light-hearted whimsy, his 1992 work is sober in its firmly centralized composition, formal and natural colours stirring his subjective states of feeling on reality. Liu simulates the slick, glossy surface of Renaissance paintings in painstakingly flawless brushstrokes, depicting an austerely beautiful, timelessly iconic painting, the orthodox subject enlivened by Liu's romantic disposition. The tender warmth and comforting breeze trickle in through the open window on the top left- a subtle pictorial device guiding our view to absorb the whole scene, granting a perceptual break from the grid of the window, and with this, subtly uniting the indoor and outdoor together in aesthetic balance. Liu's grapple with art and reality of his 1990s work soon progressed into a synthesis between fantasy and reality, moreover into a blatantly politicized commentary in his phantasmagorical visual language, which we dominantly identify his works today.
Crystallized into a final visionary, and indeed maintaining his integrity and identity to his earlier works, Madonna with Naughty Children (Lot 1575) is a flamboyant synthesis of Liu's personal, poetic, social, religious and political milieu. The magnetism is compelling yet baffling; whether it is the inherently conflicting nature of square and circle frame, pink adjacent to the red, the vastly symbolic palette of the dramatic red sky signaling a reference to Cultural Revolution, while also appearing as a pious parody of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Utilizing the space in simple and rational hierarchy, Liu stages a celestial panorama above, young soldier-angels playing their musical instruments beneath the throne of the Madonna and the child. A twist of a classical mythology into an erotic reverie, all the figures are caught in exaggerated, lyrically ebullient expressions, hovering on the amiable shapes of spherical clouds. Pertaining to the structural balance of art history, the rounded forms are constantly echoed within the canvas through the plump faces of the angels, the slipped breast of the Madonna, the soft bubbly fog, and the red sunset; all typically executed in a Renaissance flavour with polished paint strokes, a sumptuous palette of red and yellow and coated with a modulated glaze. Locking a cynical riddle with a romanticized temperament, Liu Ye questions 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. His 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. However, the over-riding mood of innocent adventure suggests that it would be a mistake to reduce Liu Ye's works to something so mundane as socio-political critique; Liu Ye's appeal and greatest insight lies in his appreciation of how dreams and fantasies, the romance and mystery of adventure, is what drives us, regardless of ideology.