Born in 1965, artist Liu Wei has always been caught up in periods of unfolding change. For artists of his generation, they grew up in the most repressed 1970s, and the most turbulent 1980s when China was going through rapid political and economic changes. They differ from the next generation of artists of the 1985 New Wave in that their focus does not rest on philosophy or discussions of history and tracing back to historical sources, and they lend no credence whatsoever to the structuring of a set of new values or the salvation of society or other cultural fantasies, but rather cast their eyes solely on themselves, confronting their own helplessness or the redemption of their own existences. They employ a mocking surreal method to depict the reality of their own mediocrity, and a self-effacing, cynical and insouciant attitude to portray themselves and their enervated view of their environs, their ennui, and even at times the ludicrous interludes in their lives.
Liu Wei comes from a staid military family. Subject to the strict control of tutors as a child, this strait-jacket of virtue, morality and ethics eased in his adolescence, with the artist's budding doubts about the socio-status quo ultimately forced to find outlet in his art. The 1994 exhibition at the S?o Paolo Biennial of the group work Swimming aroused quite a stir and a sensation. Coming from the influence of a 'gender-neutral' communist nation, gender themes in the artist's paintings are straightforward, yet they are also allegorical and pregnant with political implications and, as a release from sexual preoccupations and their fierceness, give voice to an unprecedented expression. The new realist painting method Liu Wei initiated has galvanised painting with its 'cynical realism'.
The 1990s proved to be the most pivotal for Liu Wei's transformation. He gradually began to shift from using of images charged with strong political symbolic meaning towards erotic elements meant to augment the dominant theme of his obscurantist political leanings. After setting off on a different path of his own, he then re-immersed himself back into the embrace of traditional culture, with a painstaking reevaluation of human consciousness and the nature of things.
The short, quick strokes in this work, with its randomly flowing, reflect the Romantic style of the Chinese literati. The artist seems to use pigment as ink; like Bada Shanren, it is wild and uninhibited, unbridled and bizarre, but with simple, broad, exaggerations to produce this distorted figure with a freehand brushwork method.
Since the mid-1990s, Liu Wei has frequently travelled between Europe and China, where the huge economic, cultural and ecological contrast provides him with creative inspiration. In 2000, upon greeting the new millennium, where China's economy was maintaining its vigorous development, it seemed that the entire society's sole concern was economic success. In the work, Businessman (Lot 128), the artist accurately models the face while, in the chaos of the cheek, one may discern levels of facial features. The painting's base colour is a stereotypical black bottom, in conforming to artistic practices of the late 1990s, with levels of sketch-like strokes in strong, dry, vibrant white, grey and black colours.
Regardless of whether one is positioned in the East or West, the highest pursuit in portraiture is not only in the accuracy of form but also in capturing the essence that inherently demands for a lifelike depiction. The ethereally empty eyes and indistinct facial features of the man in the painting morph the body into a state between likeness and unlikeness. The artist allows the brush to roam at will across the canvas, with wantonly flowing pigment imparting a casual, but inimitable painted texture. A Taoist form-without-form inheres in this abstract chaos; this formless-form is a metaphysical philosophy that exalts spirit over form. With no definite concrete entity, greyscale tones shroud this gloomy picture with an air of quiet, dead emptiness, yet there is dynamism too amid this stasis, and reality glimpsed amid illusion, as the artist deftly quickens the painting with a vital living sense. The fuzzy feeling of this picture actually chronicles the passage of time, and is the artist's way of engaging in light playfulness, modelling the figure to become a ghostly image with a comic form. This is his cynical way of teasing and mocking the reality of this community and its commercial credo.