Contemporary Chinese artist Liu Ye has opened Bamboo Bamboo Broadway, a solo exhibition of new paintings at Sperone Westwater, where he continues to engage the history of modernism, while referencing the tradition of abstraction in historical Chinese painting, though he introduces new genres such as landscape and still-life painting to his oeuvre.
The centerpiece of the show is a nine-part painting of abstracted and simplified details of a bamboo plant which spans the gallery's double-height wall. Bamboo Bamboo Broadway (2012) is the artist's largest work to date. Painted in New York, this nine-part work measures 6 x 9 meters. Liu Ye utilizes a familiar trope in Chinese painting -- bamboo imagery in a landscape format -- but employs a modernistic approach to the composition. Each canvas hangs abutted in a grid, reminiscent of Bauhaus architecture in its modularity. The composition also evokes the internal logic of a Mondrian painting; a pictorial effect the artist identifies as "balanced, graceful, pure, and projecting a sense of serenity."
The exhibition also includes a group of small paintings; a scale that has become signature for the artist. These works convey a rational, contemplative, and sometimes solemn tone. Small Painter (2009-2010) depicts a girl with a pensive demeanor seated at a desk drawing the Miffy character, the small female rabbit created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna in the 1950s.
Pinocchio (2011) is a geometrically-rendered portrait of the character in the children's novel. The artist's inscription on the back of this painting reads: "Nearly 40 years ago, I read a book on Pinocchio. Today I painted a portrait of Pinocchio -- I hope after 40 years I will paint another one."
Birds (2011), shows two sparrows mating against a dark, monochromatic ground, suggestive of a 17th century Spanish still-life painting.
Born in Beijing in 1964, Liu Ye came of age during the Cultural Revolution, a period between 1966 and 1976 when all art was at the service of the state and individual expression was explicitly forbidden. His father was a children’s book author, and one afternoon, Liu Ye discovered a collection of Western literature hidden in a black chest beneath his parents' bed. Although these books were banned at the time, Liu Ye nonetheless studied their illustrations intensely. As a young adult, the artist went on to study industrial design and mural painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Germany to pursue an MFA at the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin from 1990 to 1994.
He later spent time in Amsterdam as an artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie, where he first encountered works of art by Mondrian, Vermeer, Klee, and Dick Bruna.