Perhaps the best way to understand the art of renowned Chinese artist Li Lei is through his poetry, and the most direct way to travel into his inner world is through his thought-provoking poetic abstraction. Best known for his diligent undertaking to develop abstract art in China that speaks to its national traditions and cultural identity, the former Deputy Director of China Art Museum translates the impulsive aesthetic vocabulary in Western Abstract Expressionism into the state of Ch’an and Tao (The Way), a metaphysical narrative deeply rooted in the philosophy of Taoism and Buddhism which the artist never stops contemplating in relation to today’s life. Through his bold chromatic approach and rhythmic brushworks, Li Lei magically composes one after another modern yet idyllic pieces that strike an emotional chord in viewers.
Well versed in both poetry and visual art, Li Lei once said that “poetry is the most expressive and inspiring way to convey emotions in Chinese culture. Because the poems are closely related to our lives, they allow me to communicate my deepest thoughts in abstract art in a powerful way”. Notably, his melodic poems emanate the depth of his emotionally colourful paintings while the dynamic brushstrokes permeate the canvases with the lyricism of his poems.
In his poem “July 18th”, Li immerses himself in the immensity of the universe through the musicality of his poem. In this void, rainbow, stars and everything else are all within his reach, one is all, and all is one. At the same time he is a tadpole, a grasshopper and a firefly, which, however small and short-lived, are part of the perpetual circle of life; the microcosm of their world is a glimpse into the macrocosm of the universe. Then, Li lets go of “a hundred species of flowers”, as in everything in the material world, despite their myriad shapes and colors, their beauty is but temporal. To avoid being obscured by all kinds of worldly matters, to “leave all delusions” emphasized by Ch’an, Li closes his eyes in pursuit of the eternal light in his spiritual world, the light of enlightenment that can only be attained in the artist’s lifelong investigation on the question of life and the relationship between man and the universe. The eternity of nature is also implied in the title of the poem, a date without the year, because the truth never changes, and time is only a relative.
Just as the rainbow and stars in the poem are the reflection of the light in his heart, Li Lei’s abstract art is the materialization of his thorough understanding of the profundity of Chinese traditional philosophies, through which the artist finds deeper meaning of life and attains transcendence. In his poem one can almost see his composition of intense colors and rhythmic brushstrokes, the colors of the rainbow, stars, hundred species of flowers and the eternal light engage in a silent dialogue with the dynamic gesture of the brush, at times undulating like tadpole swimming in a pond, at times rapid and vigorous like a firefly crossing the sky. Sometimes his tableau exudes a sense of endless depth yet with a suggestion of subtle movement, while enveloping viewers in an infinite void, this profound stillness that the artist creates is not stagnant, it is rather in a state of flux, like clouds of heavy fog moving imperceptibly in the vastness, like a grasshopper resting on a leaf, action within inaction.
In his poetic abstraction constructed through the cultural awareness of aesthetics, the metaphysical interpretation of humanity and the liberation of his inner self, Li Lei turns the viewing experience into an intimate and emotional conversation about the deeper meaning of life, from the origin and evolution of the universe to the composition of life and the relationship between time and space. His diptych series Calm Abiding with Awareness, to be exhibited for the first time in his upcoming solo exhibition “Poetic Abstraction” concurrently held in 3812 Gallery London and Hong Kong, is the epitome of the artist’s approach to art. The juxtaposition between the expressionistic composition with boldly contrasted colors and the expanse of meditative color fields with subtle gradation creates a tension between the emotional and the rational, the material and the spiritual, and the “hundred species of flowers” and the inner light.
For Collect Art Journal Vol.3
(Courtesy of 3812 Gallery)