Overseas Chinese painter Li Youbai opens solo show at M50 Art Park

Tan Weiyun
'LYB IN PRACTICE 2023' features about 40 artworks Li created over the past six to seven years, which the artist refers to it as a display of his artistic exercises.
Tan Weiyun
Overseas Chinese painter Li Youbai opens solo show at M50 Art Park

Overseas Chinese painter Li Youbai recently opened his solo exhibition "LYB IN PRACTICE 2023" at M50 Art Park. The exhibition features a collection of about 40 artworks Li has created over the past six to seven years. Not adhering to a specific theme or series, Li refers to the exhibit as a display of his artistic exercises.

His paintings underscore a distinctive personality, characterized by unrestrained lines, bold colors, and dynamic tension. Building upon the heritage of traditional Chinese painting, the works seamlessly integrate elements of both classical and contemporary European art.

Li's approach to painting is intuitive and unstructured. "I rely on my feelings for color and tone, but once I grasp that feeling, I try to forget about it and paint freely," he said.

His works vary in tone, from somber hues reflecting depression to vibrant colors signifying joyful moods. Each piece invites diverse interpretations and can be appreciated from any orientation.

A recurring motif in Li's brushwork is an abstract figure rendered in shades of brown and yellow – a possible metaphor for humanity as envisioned by the artist.

"With a high-power telescope seen through from another planet, human beings might appear as ants, engaged in relentless conflict, reflecting the chaos of the world," he said, mirroring his anguish over current social issues such as war and racial strife.

This sentiment permeates his artwork, casting a somber tone over these representations. The brown and yellow figures assume various forms in his paintings, from a wolf-faced entity to a mother cradling her child, to speculative depictions of humans centuries hence, all encapsulating the multifaceted nature of human existence.

Overseas Chinese painter Li Youbai opens solo show at M50 Art Park

"2995" by Li Youbai

The painting "2995" presents an abstract vision of a future human form. Dominating the canvas is a large, central figure composed of earthy brown tones that suggest an organic, almost primal essence.

The figure's outline is loosely defined, its features and contours melding into the background, creating a sense of fluidity and transformation. White streaks, possibly indicating light or energy, cascade down the figure, contrasting sharply with the darker tones.

The background is a mix of cooler blues and greens, perhaps depicting a natural landscape or a less tangible, perhaps spiritual or emotional, environment. The brushwork is expressive and dynamic, with bold strokes that give the painting a sense of movement and vitality.

The figure does not possess clearly defined facial features, which could imply a departure from our current understanding of human physiology.

"The abstract nature of the depiction suggests that the essence of humanity in the future may transcend physical form as we know it, hinting at a more fluid and adaptable existence," the artist said.

Li's artistic journey began two decades ago in Florence, Italy, where he studied painting and the history of the Renaissance, including oil painting, etching, watercolor, ink painting, and freehand life drawing.

The exhibition also features his sketches of Italian landscapes, such as a windy Tuscan countryside and a series depicting vivid Mediterranean scenes, revealing his profound affection for the surrounding natural ambiance.

Overseas Chinese painter Li Youbai opens solo show at M50 Art Park

This individualized sentiment is translated onto canvas with exceptional delicacy and passion, infusing Li's work with a tactile and emotive quality that resonates with his personal experiences.

Li shared a deep connection with his mentor, the legendary painter Liu Haisu (1896-1994), whom he affectionately called "Uncle Liu." As a young protégé, Li spent considerable time painting at Liu's house in the 1960s.

The then young Li once painted a portrait of his sister, set against a red backdrop, capturing her upper body as she gazed into the distance. Liu, assisting in the refinement of the artwork, wielded a palette knife to make adjustments. "Uncle Liu seemed very satisfied with it, as he examined it closely on the balcony for several minutes," Li recalled.

His relationship with Liu wasn't confined to formal training; it was more akin to playful exploration. They shared meals at a restaurant in Longhua area, renowned for its braised blackcarp – considered the best in Shanghai. Together, they painted peach blossoms in the countryside, fostering Li's artistic growth in a nurturing and informal environment.

"LYB IN PRACTICE 2023" is a narrative of Li's transformation, tracing his journey from a young, inspired painter in Italy to a profound artist in Shanghai, and a visual diary, illustrating his evolution and the diverse influences that shaped his artistic path.

Date: through January 14, 10am-6pm (Closed on Mondays)

Venue: Ruipin Gallery, M50 艺术园区睿品画廊

Address: 4C-107, 50 Moganshan Rd 莫干山路50号4号楼4C-107

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