李大方 | Li Dafang 洞 | Hole 布面油画 | Oil on canvas 120x120cm 2017
李大方 | Li Dafang 妻子 | Wife 装置绘画、布面油画、着色木梯 | Installation、Oil on canvas、Color on timber ladder 260X382cm 2016
李大方 | Li Dafang 妻子 | Wife 装置绘画、布面油画、着色木梯 | Installation、Oil on canvas、Color on timber ladder 20x30cm 2016
李大方 | Li Dafang 双桥农场 | Shuangqiao Farm 装置绘画、布面 / 板面油画，着色木头 | Installation、Oil on canvas / board、Color on timber ladder 266x230cm 2015
李大方 | Li Dafang 一个矮子 | A Dwarf 布面油画、木板油画 | Oil on canvas、Oil on board 300x266cm 2017
李大方 | Li Dafang 小营的街 | Xiaoying Street 布面油画 | Oil on canvas 218x100cm 2013
By Su Wei
In the past few years, Li Dafang expressed his creation as “painting in strokes, bit by bit.” It’s hard for us to have a sound grasp of these words from the cloudy appearances of the pictures. The rural area, the urban fringe, and the desolate urban streets, all of these daily scenes have been his favorite subject. In the picture, however, what we see is more than the declination, the disorder, and the putrid throughout the rapidly changing Chinese society; but those symbolic languages, as guideposts, do not point in the direction of a general symbolic system of “reality-representation.” In other words, the pictures he created do not have immediacy but send out a kind of signal to facilitate the communication with the audience. Decoding this signal is the key to “read” his creations (not just those pictures).
Although he has created some photograph-like works in the spirit of realism, his interest in “representation” is merely a natural extension of his Chinese college painting background. What “painting in strokes, bit by bit” implies is not an elaborate imitation of reality. In a European trip, Li was moved by Giotto’s works, not by the revealing and inspiring power of the latter’s works, but simply by painting the objects bit by bit; For the insights of being a professional painter and the deep appreciation for the contemporary situation, he immediately caught the connotation, or the possibility, of the matter of painting in present days; with oil-free pigment, in slight strokes he repeatedly combine the variations in strokes and thoughts, in which the color and the structural content of the picture are exhausted and complex, being full of avoidance, suggestion, complaint, and question; it is an inevitable choice driven by the connotation or possibility.
This connotation or possibility is what Li Dafang called “job”. Painting is a job, a job that revolves around the construction and deconstruction of meaning. Li’s creation has long been detached from the framework of the pseudo-question of the so-called “painterliness”; his consideration of stroke, performance, and the meaning of picture evolved on the basis of individual’s practice, whereas what the picture itself can bring out is no more than an essential factor, a system that cannot provide all the creation blood. The conception of “the man being creating” is the core of all his work. Although the content of this work is not entirely invented or assigned by the artist, the consciousness, order, and thought conveyed in the picture will not go beyond the scope of the painting itself. What he did, in fact, was to strengthen the “functionality” of this work and forced him, as a painter, to obtain the real meaning of the expression. This authenticity derives from his creation and life experiences, as well as from his observation of the history of painting and the current context. In his expression system, all things that can contribute to the expression sprang from a personal experience of being-in-the-world; he placed them in thinking and creation, and by continuously mapping, testing, examining, and making precise, he converted them into an internal driving force of practice.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why he set a ladder-type worktop under the easel, or cut the frame and re-assembled into a seemingly meaningless shape, or divided the canvas into two parts, on one of which he mechanically and cumulatively drawn lines, the basic action of painting: in this way, Li created a sense of ritual and a “must-done” work situation. The solemn form of the worktop, as well as the shape of the canvas, are reminiscent of a place of worship, but this, again, is a misunderstanding between form and content. Obviously, when it comes to the contemporary era, the artist is more concerned with the progress of his own creative system; as conveyed by Li’s pictures, symbols only qualified for an acquaintance in this sense. This is also reflected in the picture: Li always attempted to convey a metaphorical plot, for example, the association between a squatting man and a naked strong woman in Wife (2016); or by a secretive “narrative” he made a narrative element more exposed, covering a layer of drama on the drama, as the conjecture caused by those who are changing clothes inside and outside a curved iron wall in The Chaobai River (2017).
In his works, the picture has a strong sense of superposition. On the one hand, his academic background, which based on the Soviet Socialist Realism painting skills, and gradually formed a stylized painting teaching system, and which introduced him into the inner of the painting, naturally led him to adjust his brushwork and composition repeatedly in the confrontation between authenticity and fiction, realism and surrealism, in the creation; in this level, the painting is a process of struggle, a diachronic reconstructive representation. It is worth noting that despite the influence of realism (socialism) is weakened and diluted in Chinese short history of contemporary art, we can not simply consider it as an abandoned scrap, or as an object that the artists are hostile towards. For Li Dafang, this heritage is more like a natural existence, a key, rather than moral burden. On the other hand, “the sense of superposition” comes from his worship of vocation, the greatest respect for time and physical exertion. His industry, so to speak, was the moral one. It was a serious attitude towards the creation; in strokes, as well as in the consciousness inspired by the creation state, he constantly reorganized, deployed, and opened up possible areas, in which, meanwhile, the irreversible passing of life, the evolution of thought’s coordinate, the friction and motion of joints, all of these involved, as he said, “like a worker, a leftist.”
The exhibition is entitled A Leftist, which is part of the long-term exhibition plan of Li’s formulation. In fact, all the ambiguities conveyed by this somewhat misguided title should be understood in the light of the most important feature of Li’s painting practice, i.e., “job”. Therefore, when we say that his work is inevitably inspired by the social reality, we do not really uncover the surface of the picture; when we say realism (socialism) is the reference to his creation and hence the object of parody, we do not touch the inner. With the same attitude as the leftist workers’, he wholeheartedly adhered to a belief in painting, and thrown himself in painting; in the field he “practiced” everywhere, looking for the motivation for the rationality and legality of painting, and put himself into a part of the painting. This is the biggest authenticity in his paintings, also the most realistic place.
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