The epic scale of Red I represents one of Liu Ye's first canvases, in which the fragile lens of a child's unblemished gaze casts its view over a changing China. Liu Ye's solemn cherubs inhabit a world pivoted on the duality of appearances. With her diminutive form belying a depth of perspective, a little girl perches on the edge of a cliff staring into a vast red universe, her skirt lifted in a manner akin to Marilyn Monroe in her famously provocative '50s photograph above an air vent.
The silent contemplativeness displayed by the lonely child contradicts the carefree naivete of youth to create a disturbing subtext. Clad in school-girl white and green, her fists are clenched, and her hair and skirt are ruffled by the wind blowing over the cliff on which she stands. Her solitary figure is at once bereft and indomitable, as though facing unknown terrors while scanning the red-blanched expanse for something invisible to our eyes. Liu's use of the colour red is layered with ironic meaning. Apart from being the colour of blood and socialist victory, which growing up in China Liu would have been all too familiar with, it also brings to mind specific cultural references, simultaneously paying homage to Mondrian's use of primary colours while inverting the fairytale trope of Little Red Riding Hood. Visually, the vivid scarlet creates a sort of brilliant heaviness, triggering an almost tactile sense of denseness and opacity. This is juxtaposed with the thrust of the plateau below sheathed in indistinct green foliage. Cutting a perpendicular swathe through the lower right of the work, it renders an atmosphere of precarious temporality.
Celebrated for his works influenced by children's literature, such as the Grimm's Brothers fables, Liu Ye reinvents a lost childhood during which the haunting magic of fairytale was replaced by communist parables. Through populating his canvases with a troop of small people - a little girl, her teddy bear, a rabbit - Liu alludes to strong emotions by representing them in miniature form, forcing his concerns to taper into singular, compact metaphors. Liu's capsular worldview relies on the expressive quality of children in particular, rather than an adult narrative which complicates the clarity and integrity of pure emotion and sensation. This is myth-making in a different guise; instead of grandiose existential discourse, Liu Ye contains his themes in simple yet universal meta-phrases.