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For the first time, the paintings by Li Wei travel beyond the borders of the Middle Kingdom. Being confronted with a painting by this Chinese artist is a little like 'feeling' something of the inexpressible.
40 km outside Beijing, in an abandoned village, the old farm buildings have been taken over by a new generation of artists using them as studios. Thirty-six-year old Li Wei is part of a generation of artists influenced by Western art, who, after turning to twentieth century painting as a way of moving forward, have discovered a new creativeness.
Li Wei graduated succesfully from several art schools and now lives between Hong Kong and Beijing. After participating in various group shows she currently exhibits her work for the first time outside China at the Galerie Alice Mogabgab: ”Whispering paintings” (until December 30). Her art, somewhat an expansion of ink painting, nonetheless remains true to classicism. Reality is interpreted in relation to the present century. Her subject, always at the centre of the work, brings to mind Medieval paintings in which the main figure was placed in the middle so as to give it prominence.
China, 6000 years of history
China's cultural history is a seamless, continous one. The 1970s sees the beginning of Chinese contemporary art in which artists, in addition to opening up and exploring, seek to apply elements of Western contemporary art into their own.
Chinese painters have always investigated the colour properties of ink and the effects of the material itself. In their use of shading techniques they consider the diversity of the ink's grey and black nuances as a colour in its own right. Monochrome painting constitutes an essential category of Chinese art. This pictorial process characterises the initial stage of painting. Later on, the monochrome drawing asserts itself as a self-contained aesthetic genre.
Technique as an artistic philosophy
In the abandoning of the traditional use of the ink brush and a very particular ancestral gesture Li Wei's work shows a rupture with the Chinese pictorial tradition. She nonetheless stays close to the classic subject matter, namely the landscape, plants, birds and fish, and the shan shui style which determines the most accomplished form of Chinese landscape painting.
She experiments with a form of pixelisation onto marouflaged canvas or silk, a new technique involving a delicate and subtle process inspired by digital imagery. The marouflaged canvas, stengthened by another support at the back, gives the colours a luminosity as though they had been animated by magic. Li Wei skilfully applies the ink to the leaf to obtain an illusion of space and to create a perfect balance between the painted motif and the empty space so as to bestow her subject with a soul. Contrary to traditional painting, which is executed horizontally, Li Wei works vertically, applying her pictorial structure with stylistic precision and a constant mastery of the gesture.
Everything is said with so few means
Li Wei continues the tradition by staying true to the colours and their monochrome tones. The reds of the willows evoke the walls of the imperial palace and the green of the plants fall onto the canvas as a Chinese shadow play. The absence of depth and perspective brings out the grain of the canvas in these meticulously and subtly executed works. Through the artist's delicate and intelligent gesture thousands of dots form uninterrupted lines, for the gaze to plunge into and become lost.
In her extremely refined work, Li Wei invites the viewer to listen to the sound of birds and the murmur of the wind wafting through reeds and waterlilies, to sense the rustling of leaves.
The totally abstract unspoken is suggested through the treatment of the black and grey in the representation of the soft velvety snow. Li Wei is an important revelation who renews the tradition in the search for beauty of the highest kind.