online exhibition

The Book of Disquiet

Li Xu

On View

The Book of Disquiet

Lingyuan Hu

The wabi-sabi breath, the disappeared body, and the mournful crowd are filled in the picture, just as the writer’s words are pervaded by a difficult and undisguised sadness, surrounded by the group and individual’s loneliness. With the pouring of personal feelings and experiences, the overall atmosphere of the picture becomes darker and heavier. Color pigments are sometime heavier, presenting smear and dripping visual effect, and sometimes light and thin, splashing on the canvas, a concise contour outlined among them. Here is the maturity of Li Xu’s painting techniques. As an artist who was born in 1970s, Li Xu’s artistic style was first inspired by the German expressionism and American abstraction. In his Painting Landscape, the smearing and overlay of brushstrokes create a deathlike skull with a touch of Frank Auerbach's thick-painted artistic expression. Of course, most of the use of color in Li Xu’s painting is light and thin, with obvious juxtapositions of color blocks. The free and unstrained style driven by the bold brushstrokes and distorted form full embody the feelings and images of the self. Further, the main content of the panting is not completely submerged under the rendering of abstract art form. On the contrary, the single character is placed in the picture to reveal a naked sense of looking directly into the darkness, uneasiness, decadence and death. This is similar to the feeling brought by watching Francis Bacon's works: strong visual effect and repressed emotional states which strike the heart. Even in the warm light, the characters are always gloomy.

The works for this exhibition was created in 2008 to 2015. Undoubtedly, these works represent a significant period in Li Xu’s art career—the determination of his painting language. But for Li Xu at that time, he was in a state of looking for new understanding and direction for art. He made an attempt to break away from the painting system he had established. The infiniteness of art and the limitations of artists lay before his eyes, however, leaving him in a greater confusion. Skilled techniques, rich experiences, and keen perception had become Li Xu’s new shackles in painting. He once said that the more he knew, the farther away he was from the truth. Every stroke that falls on the canvas is reasonable but not reasonable. The artist’s inner ambivalence also reflects the conflicting phenomenon in the development of the real society. But the difference is that the artist may be able to fight out from the ego. In this circle, Li Xu, who constantly overthrew and rebuild his artistic language, was just like Sisphus, who unceasingly pushed the huge stone to the top of mountain, and finally went from incomprehension and pain to enlightenment. The individual seen in the picture can also be an incarnation of Sisphus, from this perspective, and also like the human being standing on the vast land here, or in-between illusion and reality in Li Xu’s heart. They convey a sense of sadness and powerlessness when they are carrying their own boulder and seek beyond their own limitations to obtain the possibilities of true existence. Art, like life, has its inevitable absurdity and uncertainty, but it also confirms the existence of authenticity and transcendence. After this repeated breaking and daubing, a completely different visual effect is presented in Li Xu’s works. It is still an unexpected and persistent artistic delight. As René Char said, “The more we understand, the more we suffer. The more we know, the more we tear. But he has clarity and tenacity proportional to the pain and despair.”

Looking back on this batch of works, some of them were created by Li Xu from his studio in Huan Tie Times Art City in Beijing. The art district was at risk of being torn down at any time, and the artists in it were nervous all the time because of concerns about demolition and not knowing where to go. Disquiet, loneliness, and angry feelings lingered in their minds, including Li Xu at that time. This sentiment and a series of reflections on current society are inescapably mixed into his paintings. All the time, the carrier of “human” is regarded as the most distinctive characteristic of Li Xu’s artistic creations that explore and elaborate on research about the human itself, human existence and the dilemma faced by humans, which is related to the influence of Sartre and Heidegger's philosophy. When the vicissitude of life and society comes, both the human beings in the real situation and the abstract figures in Li Xu’s painting, seem to transform into “nomads”, who have no choice but to accept. In 2016, Li Xu left the Huan Tie Art City, and then in 2017, it was demolished.

The continuation of life is both an extension of thought and a continuation of a work. And this personal feeling and social unrest will continue in everyone’s life. The title of exhibition derives from “The Book of Disquiet”, one of the masterpieces of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Disquiets and uncertainties are its main tone, which is extremely close to Li Xu’s creative feelings at that time in Beijing. In the midst of anxiety and restlessness, he seeks a place for individual’s freedom and rights. Fernando Pessoa said, “Anything and everything, depending on how one sees it, is a marvel or a hindrance, an all or a nothing, a path or a problem. To see something in constantly new ways is to renew and multiply it. That is why the contemplative person, without ever leaving his village, will nevertheless have the whole universe at his disposal. There’s infinity in a cell or a desert. One can sleep cosmically against a rock.”

Translated by Lingyuan Hu
July 15, 2020 in New York
Special thanks to David Brubaker

Li Xu

Li Xu was born in 1970 in Inner Mongolia, China. Now he lives and works in Beijing, China, and New York, USA. Li Xu graduated from Oil Painting Department of Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts in 1997; he graduated from the fourth studio of the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2004; he received doctor’s degree in Oil Painting from the Central Academy of Fine Art in 2012. His doctoral research interests are Research on Chinese Oil Painting and Traditional Culture; doctoral thesis Free Viewing: The Space Concept of Portrait Art in Han Dynasty has been collected by National Library of China.

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