Consistently interlaced throughout Luo Zhongli’s creative philosophy is an aesthetic based on ethnicity that is observed throughout his four-decade long art career. Luo has always firmly believed that “art should take root in life”, which he applies in depicting the lives of the farmers in Daba Mountains of central China. After his return to China at the end of the 1980s upon completing his study in Western art in Belgium, Luo has continuously been exploring new painting styles, seeking to construct a set of rhetoric that encompasses important regional culture. Bathing (Lot 487) is a product of the artist’s explorations and maturation following his return to China after his years of study in Belgium (1983-86), and signals the successful beginning of the second period of development in an oeuvre focused on the peasants of the Daba Mountains in Sichuan, Hubei and Shaanxi provinces. This period is characterized by a move from realistic figuration to a more modern expressionistic and symbolic depiction.
Lucian Freud once said: “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” The women are depicted in a semi-figurative, semi-abstract manner. Their wholesome body is composed of simple shapes and lines, intentionally exaggerated based on the artist’s own subjective experience, demonstrating a sense of primitive harmony and natural beauty reminiscent of post-impressionist master Gauguin’s portrayals of primitive life in Tahiti (Fig. 1). Luo Zhongli subverts the traditional Chinese depiction of the peasant, adding both primitive and human elements, so that here this burly peasant woman, with her unnaturally large eyes, appears both familiar and strange to us at the same time. Luo Zhongli’s depiction of the Chinese peasant has become a symbol of his artistic practice.
Luo’s exceptional skill for applying light and shadow is observed in Bathing (Lot 487) created in the early 1990s. A group of bathing women is depicted in the painting’s stage-like composition, with a sense of ease expressed in the moment of relaxation enjoyed by the farmers after a long day of labour. The subject matter of this painting echoes with Western Naturalism, depicting interactions between people, with a sense of distinctive harmony and tranquillity in the portrayal of countryside. The approach opted by Luo shows similarities with Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting style - human figures are placed at the foreground of the painting, with delicate and short brushstrokes used in applying the oil paints on canvas, resulting in soft and speckled effects of light and shadow, creating a painting filled with glistening, ethereal movements (Fig.2).
Luo Zhongli’s Bathing, is the artist’s wake up call to our civilised society, reminding us of some long lost primitive, human values. Having successfully transcended the conceptual framework and artistic methods of Chinese realism, which for over half a century followed the tenets of Soviet Socialist Realism, Luo infuses his art with the naturalistic spirit of Chinese traditional culture. In a world of globalized art exchange, his works masterfully combine the principles of contemporary visual art and the subject matter of Chinese folk realism in a style both original and true to life.