Li Huayi was born in 1948 in Shanghai, China. When he was six years old, Li learned the art of traditional ink painting with Wang Jimei in private. By 1964, at the age of sixteen, Li began his studies in Western art with Zhang Chongren, who had studied at the Belgian Royal Academy in Brussels and who was known for his realistic watercolors. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Li was exempted from being sent to the countryside and allowed to remain in Shanghai to paint Soviet-style propaganda murals as a result of his dexterity with brush and ink and his excellent training in Western art.


Since the late 1970s, Li Huayi visited a number of China's significant scenic, historic and cultural sites in the late 1970s. During this journey, Li visited the celebrated peaks of Huangshan in Anhui Province, which are often depicted in many of his paintings. In Gansu Province, Li taught himself the early history of Chinese painting and achieved an understanding of religious painting through informal study of the Buddhist cave temples at Dunhuang. Finally, in 1978, Li travelled to Beijing where he saw his first Northern Song landscape painting and first major exhibition of modern Western art; both of which left him with deep and lasting impressions.



Li Huayi in Dunhuang (left), and Huangshan (right)


In 1982, Li Huayi and his wife immigrated to San Francisco. There, he enrolled at San Francisco's Academy of Art University to study Western art and he completed his master's degree in 1984. In the same year, Li held his first one-man exhibition in America at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, featuring a combination of his Dunhuang-style paintings and his 'Abstract Expressionist' works. His abstract paintings particularly received critical acclaim from the leading scholar of Chinese painting, Michael Sullivan.


Li Huayi at his studio in San Francisco (left), and at his solo exhibition in 1984 (right)


In the decade to follow, Li Huayi explored the prospects and boundaries of abstract painting combined with elements from early Chinese art. He gradually created his signature style in the early 1990s, which features grand mountain compositions that recall the monumental landscapes of the Northern Song dynasty.


Throughout Li Huayi's artistic career, China's extraordinary landscape has been a primary source of artistic inspiration. Particularly during the 2000s, he made a number of pilgrimages to famous mountains in China including Huangshan Mountain in Anhui, Lushan in Jiangxi, Wuyishan in Fujian, Zhangjiajie in Hunan, and Huashan in Shanxi, as well as an exploration of Li Cheng's home territory in Shandong. 




Today, Li continues to find inspiration in China's vast mountains and frequently journeys back to his homeland.


Li Huayi has held solo and group exhibitions worldwide at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Wooster College Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the National Art Museum of China.


Li has also held important solo exhibitions at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2011), the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (2004), and was part of the seminal China 5000 Years Exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, NY (1999).


Li at the Guggenheim Museum (left), and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (right)


His works are widely collected by prestigious museums including the British Museum, UK, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, USA, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA, the Cleveland Museum of Art, USA, the Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii, USA, the Harvard Art Museums, USA, the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, the Spencer Museum of Art, the University of Kansas, USA, Suzhou Museum, China, M+, Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.


Artist Website

Wikipedia Page -




… In 1982 Li Huayi and his wife took advantage of an opportunity to move to the United States and settled in San Francisco… (and) enter the Academy of Art in San Francisco where he completed his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1984… Fortunately, his teachers at the Academy of Art were fully versed in post-modernist theory and encouraged him to develop his own style using Chinese materials and techniques. Through this philosophical background he came to see that his artistic challenge was not limited to linking the Chinese with the contemporary West, but rather linking ancient Chinese with the contemporary, both in China and in the West…


... Li Huayi found inspiration in the monumental landscape tradition of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126)... he made a conscious choice, not based on the limits of his abilities, but rather on an artistic, theoretical and philosophical foundation. First, he cites the pure visual appeal of these imposing landscapes. Guo Xi's Early Spring, a favorite of Li Huayi's, is one of the most complex and visually stunning Chinese paintings..."


[Li Huayi's] pursuit of this artist [Li Cheng (916-967)] has led him not only to read the available literature, but also to travel to Li Cheng's home town in modern Linzi, Qingzhou, Shandong. There he has studied the physical landscape, the pine trees, and the general environment. He has climbed areas far from the normal paths in order to get some sense of what the place might have been like during Li Cheng's lifetime. In his works he attempts to capture not only the technical aspects of Li Cheng's painting style, but also, as much as possible in contemporary times, the essence of what Li Cheng would have seen and experienced…


… In a true post-modernist fashion, Li Huayi finds the theoretical rationale for his works in a number of sources. He finds in Abstract Expressionism and in the works and writings of the twentieth-century Chinese master Zhang Daqian (himself undeniably influenced by Abstract Expressionism) the theoretical roots of the splashed-ink technique he employs to create the large-scale compositional elements of his landscapes. He also has sought and found a theoretical basis in much earlier Chinese writing…



Former Senior Curator of Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Excerpt from "Li Huayi, Past and Present", originally published in the catalogue of exhibition Mountain Landscapes by Li Huayi, UK: Eskenazi, 2007


… By turning to the monumental landscape paintings of the Northern Song period for inspiration and by using Song-style brushwork, Li Huayi makes a break with traditional Chinese ink painting, which seeks inspiration in the works of the Qing-dynasty followers of Dong Qichang (1555 -1636). In addition, going beyond the Northern Song style, Li pushes his mountains beyond the composition's top and bottom so that his paintings are close-ups rather than complete panoramic views…


Setting the background mountains on an angle and bringing the landscape elements to the painting's surface give the paintings added monumentality and dynamism. Just as simplifying the landscapes make them exceptionally direct and compelling. These characteristics inject a new and very modern feel into Li Huayi's paintings…





Curator of Harvard Art Museums

Excerpt from "Li Huayi: Recent Works", originally published in the catalogue of exhibition Trees, Rocks, Mist and Mountains by Li Huayi, UK: Eskenazi, 2010


… The lightness of the touches with the applied tip of the brush in nuances of gray and black, enhanced with pale hues, and the rendition of the tiny pine trees poised on the crest lines bear witness to the admiration that Li Huayi professes for the Northern Song masters of the 11th and 12th centuries - the landscape shares that ethereal quality of beautiful things remembered from a dream. Yet, looked at more carefully, neither this landscape nor the others resemble the art of the Song dynasty…


… While the landscapes are unquestionably Chinese in spirit, the composition, the finer detail, and the handling of light that has no precedent in China, define an entirely novel art…



Art Critic

Excerpt from "A Master's Ethereal Visions, Inspired by East and West",
originally published in the International Herald Tribune, 2 Nov 2007 


Li Huayi in Hubei, 2015

… Among contemporary Chinese artists, the landscape painting of Li Huayi is extraordinary for its spiritual profundity, imaginative power, and technical virtuosity...


… The worlds created in Li Huayi's early paintings were stable and peaceful. He cut the cosmic order into fragments, which he reconstructed in unexpected ways. One could argue that his work was postmodern, in that it deconstructed the pre-existing structures of the world (and of the classical painting to which it refers). Li Huayi's works move us by persuading us that he depicts essential qualities of the cosmos, of which each painting gives us a fragmentary glimpse…


… His works may move us profoundly, but are not overly passionate. Their power lies in their possession of the qualities that are required of literati painting, that are informed by centuries of Chinese philosophy, and that stand outside time…



Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, University of California, San Diego, the United States

Excerpt from "The Wonders of Brush and Ink – The Art of Li Huayi", published in Li Huayi – Landscapes from a Master's Heart, Rizzoli & Kwai Fung Art Publishing, 2018







In many cases, people might respond to Li Huayi's work in the same way that viewers must have responded to a great painting in ancient times: with awe and admiration. Those craggy peaks, twisted trees, mists and clouds still make a deep impression on our imagination. They encourage the same meditations on eternity and transience, on the seen and not-seen, that we find in the classics of Chinese landscape painting.


Li Huayi's work engages with this question of what may be seen as timeless and universal in art. His paintings strive to step outside of time, or at least to minimize the effect it has on the way one engages with a work. Standing in front of monumental pictures such as Antique-like Beauty in the Cliffs (2012) or Wandering in the Mountains (2013), it's easy to forget whatever one knows about art history or context and be swept up by the sheer drama. One imagines standing at some place within the landscape, feeling dwarfed and overwhelmed by the spectacle of untrammeled nature.



Excerpt from "Li Huayi: Fantasies on Paper and Enchantments in Gold", article from YISHU: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Volume 17, Number 3, Taipei, Taiwan: May/June 2018.


… The art of Li Huayi is pursuing development through the heritage of the past, rather than singularly focused on looking for a change...


… The art of Li Huayi obviously deviates from the literati painting system developed since the Yuan Dynasty. Instead, he strives to re-connect with the Song Dynasty tradition, to capture accurately the essence of nature with his ink and brush. He is effectively infusing his paintings with his emotions and spirit. In other words, he strives to inherit another stream of Chinese artistic tradition, tracing back to an even older concept of Chinese painting, which precedes the development of the logical principles of literati painting. He is exploring not only the spirit of this ancient painting tradition, but also its belief in meticulousness as the standard for conducting every aspect of life, including art creation and even daily life details…


... the very monumentality of his works is created by his weaving together innumerable layers of delicacy. In my understanding, the construction of imagery in this manner is borne from Li's ingenuity, rather than scrupulousness. He paints his mountains and water as if they were real mountains and water; it is an artistic realm in its own right... 



Vice President of Beijing Fine Art Academy

Excerpt from "From the Magic of Nature – A Study of the Art of Li Huayi, by way of Answering Several Questions" originally published in the catalogue of exhibition Exotica- Latest Works of Li Huayi Hong Kong: Kwai Fung Art Publishing, 2016

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