Li Huayi’s Rondo, with its imposing composition and sculptural aura, is the quintessence of his celebrated oeuvre. While the dramatic imagery on the large horizontal scroll attests to his instruction in the Shanghai School, the striking depth manifests his learning of classical Western painting and socialist realism art. Likewise, the spirited vision alludes to his study of abstract expressionism after relocating to San Francisco from Shanghai in 1982.
Emanating the monumentality of Northern Song landscape paintings nearly a millennium later, Li’s Rondo also encompasses a remarkable personal expression in an exquisite modernist style. At the turn of the century, alongside C. C. Wang and Arnold Chang, Li held fantastic exhibitions at the Kaikodo Art Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum to reciprocate the American collectors’ growing interest in Chinese contemporary ink paintings. The synchronous creation of Rondo embodies his heightened motivation to create a timeless escape for those who seek “solace in the wonders of monumental landscapes.” From afar, as if the viewer is standing on a nearby summit, Rondo yields a riveting, ethereal impression with its rugged mountains and wispy clouds. Forming the yin-yang symbol as a result of their animated entanglement and marked contrast in luminosity, the curving of the bank of clouds against the hook-shaped sierra evokes enlivening wonder. Amid the mist-silhouetted mountains, the juxtaposition of solid volume and airy mass becomes ever-shifting and enigmatic. Meanwhile, the verdant trees at the centre announce a rooted, vibrant presence; their miraculous growth on the precipice, besides symbolising robustness and resilience, encapsulates natural spontaneity. Such serendipity further prevails in Li’s method of creating the inky massifs – in a manner reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s gestural abstraction, Li first splashes ink, then tilts and stretches the paper to realise the mountains. Apart from imparting movement through the subjects of Rondo, Li instils qi, or ’life energy’, into his work.
Compelled to move slowly around the painting in order to behold the cloudy swirls and rocky indentations, the viewer may subconsciously mirror the measured movements of qigong, as Li did when rendering the large, intricate landscape. Much like the physical exercise, the painting epitomises dualism and mindfulness. Li, beyond staging dark concrete bulks against light hollow voids, complements his large big planes with short intricate brushstrokes; every touch on the paper reflects his meditative state. Depicting a stirring embrace between jagged edges and smooth arcs, Li Huayi’s firm strokes and soft brushes in Rondo emanate his perspicacity and virtuosity.