In its latest exhibition 166 Art Space is proud to debut portraiture works by the acclaimed Shanghai based artist Liu Wei Jian. This never before displayed series represents a departure from Liu’s iconic oeuvre of land and city scapes. The works, developed over the past decade, began as a means for the artist to clear his mind during the course of intermittent “blockages” in the development of his more traditional subject matter. After strong growth in both scale and maturity, the artist has finally agreed to display a selection of these remarkable works to the public for the first time.
Painted mostly from memory, Liu’s portraits focus on family, friends and the artist himself. The Artist’s paintings have long been distinguished by the exaggerated color palette in which they are cast. This almost surreal universe of color is so masterfully balanced that it draws the viewer into the canvas prompting an almost immediate disregard for its departure from empiricism. The portraiture series relies as well on the artist’s brilliant application of color but substitutes the structural complexity of his scapes with a challenging placement of the subject. Rarely do these works approach the formal structure of portraits of the lowlands or Northern renaissance. The artist draws his compositional inspiration instead from a broad selection of figurative painters with a more open approach - from Caravaggio to Bonnard - from Fischl to Freud.
A hallmark of Liu’s work is a tense anthropomorphic energy extant in the canvas between the objects represented. Bushes and trees seem to be reaching out to park benches, buildings struggle to caress passing freight trucks. This tension is present in the artist’s portraiture as well but with each canvas addressing only a single figure, it is less a matter of the counter positioning of objects than of Liu’s contrasting attitude towards the subject itself. In the largest canvas in the exhibition, Liu places his wife alone in the vastness of an empty theatre. Ensconced in the comfort of a soft chair, clad in a warm coat she is both safe and forlorn - caught up in her own thoughts - eyes cast away from a performance of unknown content. In a self portrait in bed the artist is unflatteringly paunchy while at the same time proud and resplendent in the morning light.
Liu’s portraits are tender and loving - these are, after all, paintings of people with whom he is closest. They are at the same time brutal and unapologetic. Figures tend to wounds or bend to Sisyphian tasks but are never abandoned as cautionary tales. There always remains hope and affection buoyed by ever present resplendent color. While not before displayed, these canvases fit seemlessly into the Artists profound body of work opening up yet another channel for his broad contribution to the language of painting.
Text by Andrew Ruff
Related Artists: LIU WEIJIAN 刘唯艰