Drama in Dream • Liu Hong Wei

10 September - 2 October 2015

This is Liu Hong Wei's fifth exhibition with Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery since 2000. The exhibition will feature 30 recent paintings by Liu and a new catalogue has been published in conjunction with the exhibition.

 

Born in 1965 in Beijing, Liu Hong Wei graduated from the Oil Painting Department of Hebei Teaching University in 1988 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Since then, he has been a professor at the Academy of Arts and Crafts of Hebei University in China.

 

Liu's paintings often portray children set within imaginatively surreal environments, acting out of scenes containing symbolic yet identifiable elements. Crafting architectural and theatrical settings with meticulous attention to detail, Liu's scenes are presented to the viewer as if he or she were a member of a theatre audience, watching a drama unfold. 

 

A Self-constructed World

 

Liu Hong Wei once said, "Children-themed paintings represent their own kind of complexity."

 

Liu was raised in the 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution in China. His memories as a young child inspired him to paint children, making them his main motif. In his paintings, we often see children playing, perhaps chasing poultry or watching crickets fight. Such scenes are played out in surreal settings; in one instance, the children chase one another inside giant pieces of fruit - enormous oranges and apples as large as a spaceship. It is Liu's inner sense of idealism that leads him to incorporate fantasy into his memories of his childhood world.

 

In Big Red Drum, a dozen children jump on a large red drum as if it were a spring bed. Liu said the scene was extracted from what he calls his "red memory". Perhaps the red drum is the very first bright red object he encountered, or perhaps it was his favorite toy; whichever the case, it is an object of significance to the artist that carries with it a special memory from his childhood. In Memories of the Lamp, Liu transforms a lamp into a lighthouse, letting children play around inside. Simple objects such as these from Liu's memories become the setting for his paintings, and the children playing within them activate and animate them, transforming his past into something new.  As we follow his work, we are witness to the construction, piece by piece, of this very unique world of Liu Hong Wei.

 

In early nineties, Liu saw the work of the 20th century French painter Balthus and was deeply moved. He said the children in Balthus' work touched and inspired him. He also drew inspiration from the fanciful atmosphere of late medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch's work and the pure and joyful feeling of Pieter Bruegel's paintings. "They gave me a lot of nutrients to construct my dream world," Liu said.

 

A Dream that Crosses Time and Space

 

Liu said, "I am very interested in creating new activities for the children in my paintings, especially letting them appear in the work of old masters, and then create something new from it. Isn't it quite fun?"

 

Liu Hong Wei has keenly studied the artworks of masters from every artistic period, meticulously analyzing their schools, techniques and ideas. For his ongoing series of works 'Dancing with the Masters', he draws inspiration from masters including Piet Mondrian, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and M. C. Escher, and tries to reinterpret their works using his own artistic language.  As he moves from contemplation to creation, Liu works to glean the elements of inspiration from these famous works, deconstructing them and re-purposing them within his own work. Ever respectful of his forebears, the works from this series are the result of a long and drawn out thought process.

 

In painting Mondrian's World, Liu found himself inspired by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Mondrian believed that art reflects the underlying spirituality of nature. He simplified the subjects of his paintings down to the most basic elements, in an attempt to reveal the essence of the mystical energy in the balance of forces that governs nature and the universe. In Liu's interpretation, these 'basic elements' are playfully enlarged and we are invited to explore their secrets - Mondrian's flat blocks of colour became three-dimensional rooms for Liu's children to play in and discover.

 

In A Bizarre Building No.1 and A Bizarre Building No.2, we can see the work of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. Escher used his artistic and mathematical talents to create works of art that play with perspective and dimension, fantasy and reality, the impossible and the plausible, morphing them all into visual wonderment. Liu Hong Wei, sensing a kinship between his world and that of Escher, placed the children within this strange and illogical world, as if sending them to explore another dimension of space.

 

Liu also borrows symbols from the surrealist artists Rene Magritte and Joan Miró. In Eye I, Eye II, Blue Sky and White Clouds and Floating Apple, it is not difficult to spot elements that appear in Magritte's paintings. Magritte's images are beautiful in their clarity and simplicity, but they also have the ability to provoke unsettling thoughts. They seem to declare that they hide no mystery, and yet they are also marvelously strange. Again, Liu sets his characters free to explore Magritte's mysterious, alien world. In Miro on the Wall I & II, the children in the painting are drawing at the work of Spanish artist Joan Miro. The scene humorously illustrates the artistic belief of Miro that we should liberate our unconscious and illogical mind - the intuitive mind of a child, manifested here in Liu's characters.