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February 9, 2010

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The art of interior dialogue

THE "Young Artists Show" at Leo Gallery features works of the emerging post-1980s generation. Nancy Zhang looks at two whose art shares an introspective quality. They seem to be having an internal conversation.

Chinese art first captured the world's attention for its political pop images in the past few years. But with a new generation of artists growing up in an increasingly diverse society, Chinese art is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize.

"Political pop was such a strong trend in Chinese art because the artists came from a generation where the whole nation experienced very similar changes," says Leslie Kuo, curator of the "Young Artists Show" underway at Leo Gallery.

It features young, emerging artists and runs through March 28.

"Today there is a wider array of influences and artists look for their own inspirations; the styles are more diverse," says Kuo.

Two artists in the exhibition, Liu Lei and Liu Ye, are of the post-1980s generation and demonstrate the fertile soil of new thought and inspiration in post-political art.

Chosen from two of the country's most prestigious art institutes, Beijing's Central Academy of Art, and Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, they open a window on the developing scene.

According to Kuo, the two artists share an introspective quality in their work that may also be informed by their single-child status - an important part of recent social changes.

"Single children, on the one hand, are used to having their thoughts heard in the family, but on the other hand are not used to sharing or joining in with others. This manifests in art as not following what others are doing," Kuo says. "Their work is more of an internal conversation where the only sounding board is the canvas."

Date: through March 28 (closed on Mondays), 11am-7pm

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Liu Ye

Liu Ye's dark, amorphous works draw the audience into interpreting the meanings for themselves. Liu is a graduate of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts.

His work often depicts water. Paintings for the latest exhibition are mostly inspired by the sea - which he saw for the first time on a study exchange in the Netherlands - or the hot springs common in his native hometown, Sichuan.

But, says this 26-year-old artist, he makes no conscious decision to depict certain subjects.

"Art is the spontaneous expression of a lifetime of experiences accumulating inside," he says. "I only discovered recently myself that I paint a lot of natural scenery and water. I also don't want to pinpoint what meaning they have because then viewers may stop thinking.

"I think it's good if your interpretation is different from mine. Stimulating thought is the most important thing," he adds.

Even Liu's creative process is that of an unmapped journey. His abstract, figurative paintings are sketched first straight onto canvas, then built up with paint, foil, glue, plaster and glitter - anything that comes to hand filling out the internal dialogue.

But according to Kuo, Liu's subjects also have the introspective quality of being lost in its own world in the form of a conversation between the artist and the viewer.

"Though my methods are not quiet, they're used to depict a quiet subject," says Liu.

Born in 1984 in Chongqing

Graduated in 2007 from Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Department

Currently pursuing a master's degree at Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Department


"We 2009" The Inaugural Huangjueping Annual Exhibition of Art, Huangjueping Art District, Chongqing, 2009

"Sichuan School" Sichuan Fine Arts Institute Oil Painting Exhibition, Tokyo, 2009

"The End of the World and the Grim Fairyland" Liu Ye Solo Exhibition, Yan Club Arts Center, Beijing, 2008

Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts Graduates Works Exhibition, Chongqing Art Museum, Chongqing, 2008

"Color" Contemporary Art Exhibition, Osage Gallery, Shanghai, 2008


"Excellent Graduate Work" Prize, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute Graduate Department, Chongqing Art Museum, 2007

Liu Lei

Born in 1980, Liu Lei chronicles the gradual modernization of everyday life by carefully depicting its most mundane details.

Light switches, staircases, telephone lines and the flat, concrete building facades of northern China are the protagonists in her paintings.

These buildings were her neighbors as she studied at Beijing's Central Academy of Arts. Her series celebrates the buildings' still beauty and wisdom in their discrete aging.

"I find the most ordinary things to be the most meaningful because they are things we can't live without," she says. "I wanted to record the very familiar environment where I lived because of the feelings they hold. The ordinary is what I always look for in life and in my works."

But what appears to be a very plain, visual vocabulary belies the extensive planning and meticulous work required. Print-screen artworks are produced by superimposing layer after layer of images on top of one another.

"Maybe because of this planned process Liu Lei's works are very good at conveying to the audience her interpretations of the subject," says Kuo.

Born in 1980 in Chengde, Hebei

Graduated in 2005 from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Print Making Department


"Efflorescence," ifa Gallery, Shanghai, 2009

Carte Blanche (Winter Exhibition), ifa Gallery, Shanghai

Central Academy of Fine Arts, "Academy Lights" exhibition, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, 2005


Dragonair Emerging Chinese Artist Award, Art Scene Warehouse, Shanghai, 2006

Second Prize at CAFA Excellent Graduation Works Exhibition, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, 2005


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