Home Magazine Liu Ye. The ripples on the surface of a quiet painting!

Liu Ye’s 35 paintings, made since 1992, are now presented in Milan in the spaces of Prada Foundation redesigned by the Archistar Rem Koolhaas. “Liu Ye: Storytelling” was first shown in 2018 at the Villa Rong Zhai in Shanghai, a spectacular neo-classical colonial mansion, whose style acts as a bridge between Chinese and European architectural history. But all the life story of Liu Ye is woven with eclectic elements borrowed from Oriental-Occidental distinctive worlds and traditions. This dichotomy brings out from the canvases a peculiar restlessness.  

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FondazionePrada, Storytelling, Udo Kittelmann e Liu Ye. Ph Niccolò Quaresima e Rosdiana Ciaravolo 4


The pictorial art of Liu Ye (Beijing, 1964) comes to life in the fold between Asian and Western culture. He, for his part, was trained between two worlds: first in Beijing, where he studied Wall Painting and Industrial Design, and then, in the early 90s, in Berlin - the city he’s chosen to attend a Master at the Academy of Fine Arts - and, a few years later, in Amsterdam. Liu Ye’s work not only describes Chinese millenary tradition but is also pervaded by European history and legends, thanks to his father’s storytelling. He was, unusually, a children's book writer during the Cultural Revolution who used to read to Liu Ye the tale of the wooden puppet Pinocchio and Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, especially the tearful Little Match Seller. “They were simply good stories, neither Eastern nor Western”, comment the artist, a placid and elegant man who, in his home country, is considered a superstar - with a new auction record of US$6.6 million set in 2019 for the work Smoke


From left to right, Liu Ye, Eileen Chang, 2004, Acrylic and oil on canvas 60 x 45 cm. Yao Qian Collection, Taipei Liu Ye
Bird on Bird, 2011. Acrylic on canvas 22 x 28 cm. Wang Bing Collection, Beijing


From left to right Liu Ye, Books on Books, 2007, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm. Private Collection, Shanghai | Liu Ye, Mondrian in the Morning, 2000
Acrylic on canvas,180 x 180 cm. Private Collection, Beijing


In China, they say that if you want to paint bamboo, you have to become a bamboo. Liu Ye has the ability to shed his skin and become something else. His seemingly calm and soft paintings, hiding stratified layers of meanings, exchange experiences about what we see, feel and might think of. The two pretty sparrows that mate in Bird on Bird (2011) are not what they seem. They tell a story of persecution and of repeated human stupidity. The intense blue portrait (The Goddess, 2018) of Ruan Lingyu - one of the Shanghai most famous actresses of the 1920s - disguises a tragic anecdote and epilogue. The figure with the long nose and the red hat in the charming acrylic on canvas Pinocchio (2011) symbolizes a moral and pedagogical narrative, rather than just depicting the image of an unusual child who doesn’t want to grow up. It is very important to read the exhibition’s captions carefully, because they allow us to concentrate upon Liu Ye’s intricate storytelling and to draw connections beyond the horizons of time and place, here and now. 

Through the representation of books - the artist favourite subject -, flowers and fruits, portraits of damned souls (Chet Baker, 2009), broken mirrors, the rabbit character of Miffy (created by the illustrator Dick Bruna), and the compositional elements of Piet Mondrian, Liu Ye accompanies us on an unexpected journey. Intimate and universal, sensual and eerie, magical and obscure, candid and shrouded in a fog of deep despair. Because, as Eastern wisdom of Yin and yang teaches, black always contains white and vice versa. “We must dialogue with the world, and in-between worlds, through art”, Liu Ye keeps reminding us.

Written by Petra Chiodi  

Cover image: Liu Ye, Chet Baker, detail, 2009, Acrylic on canvas 40 x 30 cm. Private Collection, Beijing


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