Li Huayi in Xinjiang, 2009
Li Huayi’s latest series Exotica illustrates his majestic impressions of China’s landscape in recent years. Li first visited Xinjiang and Zhejiang Provinces in 2007 and has since travelled extensively throughout the historic sites. In 2015, he took a month-long trip to hike East Tianmu Mountain, Huangshan Mountain, Qiyun Mountain, Jiuhua Mountain and Tianzhu Mountain in Anhui Province; to cross the Wulong natural karst bridges in Chongqing; and to explore the previously inaccessible areas of Shichuan, Hubei and Hunan, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wulingyuan.
Throughout his travels, Li discovered an invisible natural energy that triggered a subconscious evolution within himself and resulted in a fresh outlook on the world. For his series Exotica, Li translated this newfound energy into surreal landscapes, presenting an extraordinary glimpse into a world beyond our reach where one is far removed from the rapid pace of the contemporary world.
Li Huayi in Chongqing (left) and Hubei (right), 2015
… 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…
- MICHAEL J. KNIGHT
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…
ALTHOUGH ACCOMPLISHED IN WESTERN STYLES,
LI HAS ESPOUSED THE CLASSICAL CHINESE TRADITION
WITH A PASSIONATE DESIRE TO RESCUE AND
REVITALIZE IT, YET HE HAS CLEARLY DISTINGUISHED
HIS WORK FORM TRADITIONAL INK PAINTING.
- ROBERT D. MOWRY
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
… That a Chinese painter (Li Huayi), born in 1948 to a wealthy Shanghai family who lived through the Cultural Revolution came out unscathed is astonishing enough. But that he should have become a master of unparalleled magnitude who draws on the age-old tradition of the Chinese literati while taking it to an entirely new stage, is truly astounding…
… 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…
- SOUREN MELIKIAN
Excerpt from ‘A Master’s Ethereal Visions, Inspired by East and West’,
originally published in the International Herald Tribune, 2 Nov 2007
… 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…
- SHEN KUIYI
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
… LI HUAYI IS AN ARTIST WHO REAFFIRMS THE
ONGOING VALUE OF THE AGE-OLD TRADITIONS
OF CHINESE INK PAINTING, EVEN AS HE
INNOVATES WITHIN THE MEDIUM.
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.
- JOHN MCDONALD
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...
- WU HONGLIANG
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
Official Website of Li Huayi - lihuayiarts.com