Liu Ye (b. 1964)
Liu Ye (b. 1964)
Hope No. 1
signed and dated ‘Liu Ye 2000’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
45 x 38 cm. (17 ¾ x 11 in.)
Painted in 2000
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, Australia Contemporary Art Asia, Sotheby’s, New York, 17 March 2008, lot 15
Acquired from the above by the present owner
“To me, Dick Bruna from the Netherlands and Hayao Miyazaki from Japan are as great as Leonardo da Vinci.” Liu Ye
In the mid-1990s, Liu Ye returned to Beijing – a city that was experiencing the growing pains of rapid modernisation and consumerism. Deeply affected by this new cultural shift, the artist began to look towards children’s story books and incorporate such motifs and imagery of innocence into his works.
The way in which Liu Ye uses the colour red differs from other Chinese artists who focus on its political connotations. Instead, red is an expression of the visual experience of his childhood. The artist elaborated, “I grew up in a world covered in red: the red sun, red flags, red scarves … (w)hen I was small, I did not understand its symbolic meaning. I was merely a passive recipient.” To him, the colour red is an important part of his childhood visual experience. It is a vehicle as well as an instrument of nostalgia. This treatment of the colour red highlights Liu Ye’s emphasis on individualised feelings and experiences. The artist contemplates and responds to social phenomena from the point of view of an individual. Such perspective is an extension of his concern for the human condition and personalised sentiments.
The characters in Hope No. 1 are to a degree inspired by the traditional Chinese children modelling in Ming dynasty painter Chen Hongshou’s artworks. At the same time, they are also drawn from the selfportraits that Liu Ye painted when he was studying in Germany. The cherub face of the boy in the painting bears a striking resemblance to the artist. His interest in using children’s stories as themes is strongly demonstrated in this work. Sporting sailor outfits in light green, the boy points to the left side of the canvas while the girl holds a red book in her hand. It is evident that their round faces, stocky statures and rosy cheeks are influenced by the representation style of cartoons. Similarly, seen in Liu Ye’s rendering of Eileen Chang and Qi Baishi, such portrayals give his subjects a sense of innocence. To the artist, cartoon as an art form is as important as other traditional artistic disciplines. It utilises the most basic and accessible mode of communication to convey sophisticated morals that bring viewers inner peace and noble ideals. Liu Ye extolled the spiritual power of cartoons and once said that “artists such as Dick Bruna from the Netherlands and Hayao Miyazaki from Japan are as great as Leonardo da Vinci.”
If we examine Hope No. 1 without its representational elements, the work can be considered an abstract painting — it is composed of a crimson circle, a rectangle in a lighter shade of red, and a long rectangle in blue at the bottom. Such geometric compositions are a direct influence of Mondrian’s compositions. Yet, with his masterful placement of representational details such as the figures in the foreground, crashing waves that splash into the sky, and the weighty rocks that provide a solid foundation for the figures, Liu Ye orchestrates a fantastic visual drama by manipulating the tension between representation and abstraction. As a result, the viewer’s gaze is compelled to rationalise abstract colour planes as representational elements and the visual complexity of Hope No. 1 is heightened.