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TITLE: "Lui Liu",
DATE: Summer, 1996,
WRITER: Barry Callaghan
- This ambivalence, this tension between poles, also obtains in Subjectivity Via Objectivity (three men gong nowhere who are starting at shoes), Temptation Via Imagination (a traditional couple huddled beneath naked female clouds that clutch), and most particularly in Women in Autumn and Complex Via Climax , the first a surrealist exercise - a sexually provocative but appropriate passage through both sides of the mirror, with Chinese faces imposed on a Western "landscape" - Western nudes - and the second, a meditation, wherein naked horror is highly stylized, Goya as rendered by Max Walter Svanberg or perhaps Leonor Fini.
- The most impressive paintings, however, are the oil on canvas portraits. Lui Liu has not only looked at Holbein and particularly at Caravaggio - he has learned how to make black on black a density that seems full of the seeds of light. It is the darkness that brings the women - so big-boned but emaciated and almost anorexic in their sexual repose - to life, so that you see that that is more than "fine" painting at work: there is no reliance on parody here, there is a real relationship between the unflinching eyes and the hands that have a dancer's movement, even in their stillness.
- This arrival at ambiguity is best realized in A Sinister Period. Again, the command of the blacks is significant, and though the "scene" borders on the gothic (and an acquired gothic, because decadence - in the Chinese context - is still new, the emotion seems honest: the sinister feel of - among other things, sexual repression - is started rather than over-staaated, implied rather than exploited. ?Whether a sinister act has been committed or is being concocted is unclear, is ambiguous, and as in all his other successful works this ambiguity free Lui Liu from the Mother of his Invention, frees him so that he can stand alone facing east or west, as he chooses.
- Lui Liu is a the center of this attempt to stake out an aesthetic that is an alternative to China's "official" art. He, like other painters, has turned West with a vengeance, turned to our traditions for techniques, for icons, for attitudes of cynicism, irreverence and malaise.
- His use of Western icons is blatant, almost defiant. The range of his awareness is extraordinary, his mastery of painterly techniques compelling. But most important, it seems to me he understands the risks he's taking. He has heard his Mother of Invention (Imitation) licking her lips, and he has covered his tracks.
- I'm sure his soft sleaze nudes are shocking n Beijing, but we can see that there is also a note of parody in paintings like the Story of the Golden Apple - the Dali-like Mona Lisa as a fat lady, the Vargas-like Marilyn Monroe spread-eagled on her back, the decorous "quote" from Ingres?
- Lui Liu, has shown that his is prepared to risk kitsch but by rendering the risque as a joke on everybody, whether in Beijing or Boston, he has saved himself.