李芳 LiFang artiste peintre

Artiste Peintre
Selina Ting, « …Between the Cherished and Unspeakable », 2011

…Between the Cherished and Unspeakable



The paintings of Li Fang look familiar. Yet this familiarity is deeply infused with an intangible, uncanny mood.


Ever fascinated with the velocity and vitality of metropolitan environments, an important element in shaping Li Fang’s aesthetics is her intuitive, reactive response to the transient urban life and the fluidity of interpersonal relationship. Her experiments on the subject of Urbanity based on her own photos become her sociological studies.


Movement is perhaps the most obvious and immediate visual impact in the work of Li Fang. She adapts a highly abstract style of colour blocks to capture the fleeting sensation of the contemporary society. Such execution resembles to the grouping of pixels in the formation of a digital image. When an image gradually emerges from millions of pixels, it is a sort of movement in itself. These moving figures are captured at a precise time, i.e. a second of time that is emerging and disappearing at the same time, like an action distilled into a frame. Be it Paris, London, Beijing, Shanghai or Venice, the ephemeral presence of the passersby, or the passing among the crowd is full of vitality but also of ambiguity, because at the core of it, is a strong desire of self-pursuing and self-effacing. The alienation and the indifference among these anonymous entities are the signatures of our time.


In contrast to the tension that accumulated from the moving bodies, we find a moment of peace in three series of Piscine, Eaux dormantes and Pelouse. Here, individuals are relaxed and captured in a more intimate setting where serenity pervaded. The same brushwork and colour blocs of the artist are now at once minimalist and sculptural, giving a wood-cut sensation to the nude bodies, a texture that calls to our mind primitive paintings and wood sculpture. Despite the harmony in atmosphere and artistic arrangement, the same impossibility of communication between the individuals prevented us from any easy interpretation of these images, is isolation an undesirable imposition of our time or a constant individual need?


Li Fang’s recent work concentrates on the more subtle psychological activities of individuals. Based on photos of her family and acquaintances, Li Fang captures her models in daily activities. However, what interests the artist is not a realistic depiction of these activities but the hidden emotions that are accidentally set free, betraying their consciousness – the greed in front of an ice-cream or chocolate, a gimmick of mischief, infantile melancholy, the self-alienation in a relationship, the cruel unsettling self-scrutiny projected to the viewers etc.. While the portraits of passers-by and swimmers are cheerful and tanned with a creamy hue, that of children portraits and self-portraits tend to be solemn and gloomy, evoking classical portraits. The warm and gloomy hue gives a contrast to their liveliness and mischievousness and creates a mysterious atmosphere. Whereas, the emotion transmitted through the images is more vigorous, heavy and sophisticated. The attitude of the persona commands the atmosphere of the whole painting.


Such prevailing uncanny mood is even more evident in the self-portraits and the triptych Metamorphose. The artist employs cosmetic mask which become white and stiffen once dried, thus hindering the bearer from any natural facial expression. However, unlike the Venetian mask, the cosmetic mask fuses with the skin which makes traits discernible and acts as the materialization of the otherwise invisible disguise that we carry every day. The ambiguity between the concealing effect and the recognizable expression, results in a double play which, on the one hand, triggers all the well-contained emotions and primitive desires of the person; on the other hand, stirs a disconcerted perception on the viewers. By simplifying and distorting her subjects, i.e. her own being, Li Fang creates intimacy through alienation. The assertive stares, in particular, suggest that her paintings are not actually about herself, but the viewer’s own reaction to their perverse circumstances. With deceptive casualness, Li Fang exposes the monstrous capacity belied by “civilized” human nature. These portraits offer no comfort to the viewer, only an unnerving complicity and confusion between the suppressed and the revealed emotions.


Like a “de-facing” process, the artist’s deconstruction of the physiognomies in a painterly manner is designed to confuse the eye. The subtext is primarily motivated by the blurred, shifting and indeterminable nature of identities in the contemporary society. It seems that Li Fang is leading us to understand how gestures and attitudes acquire visual associations that the mind recognizes before any active reading is required by the eye. In the artist’s words, painting is a distillation process of the very essence of the being to retain nothing but the aura of the individual.


What we see on the canvasses of Li Fang is as psychologically disturbing as it is violently beautiful. Embracing the totality of human experience, Li Fang finds an eternal beauty not in immediate pleasure, but in the timeless gap between the cherished and unspeakable.



Selina Ting


Paris, 15 September 2011

2012-10-30     Haut de page