Impressionist innovator bewildering Western world with a fusion of science and art

Innovative artist Li Zili continues to confound and bewilder the Western art world with his exploration toward impressionism in "scattered perspective" and "optical artwork."
Ti Gong

One of Li Zili's post-impressionism works

Innovative artist Li Zili continues to confound, confuse and bewilder the Western art world with his exploration toward impressionism in “scattered perspective” and “optical artwork,” which fuses science and art. 

The Paris-based Chinese artist, who is preparing a solo exhibition at the Bao Long Art Museum in March, was recently appointed Distinguished Professor by the Fine Arts College at Shanghai University as a tribute to his creative work.

Born in 1962 in Shanghai, Li majored in iron and steel making at Shanghai University. “I am quite good at math, physics and chemistry, but I am also interested in art,” Li says.

Upon graduation, Li taught at his alma mater. He later furthered his study at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-arts de Paris and The Sorbonne in the late 1980s. He also obtained his doctor’s degree in art theory.

“I love impressionism, but the more I studied, the more I got perplexed,” he says.

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brushstrokes, with emphasis on accurate depiction in the changes of shade and light.

“But I have a question: Why is the backdrop always blurred? And why can distance on canvas only be achieved via contrast between the clear and the blurred?” he says. “That’s how an image forms in the camera. What we see is clear, whether far or near.”

Li tries to reflect distance through the application of warm and cold hues. The cold colors often refer to near subjects, while the warm ones refer to the far.

“It is easier said than done,” he says. “It took me more than 10 years to ripen this technique.”

Ti Gong
Ti Gong

However, Li’s pursuit on impressionism doesn’t end here.

“Then I got another question: Why is the skirt lace under Degas always blurred, just because his ballet girls are dancing?” he says. “And why is the movement blurred on canvas? This is not what we see from our eyes, again.”

Li spent another decade studying optical art, a visual style of art that uses optical illusions. Such artworks are usually abstract, with many better-known pieces created in black and white. Typically, they give the viewers an impression of movement, flashing and vibrating patterns.

“I would say that there are other impressionist artists out there who studied optical art,” he says, “because it is so abstract that it seems to have no relation with impressionism. But through a careful study, I discovered some hidden guidelines that might give the eyes an illusion.”

Finding such guidelines and using them on canvas was once a problem for Li.
“I was a science student before and I like to use my brains for experiment,” says the 55-year-old. “And I did it.”

Using the hidden guidelines, Li’s canvases are filled with rhythm and tempo.

The Western art world calls him “a representative of contemporary post-impressionism.”

“I am so glad that I could share my knowledge with the art students here,” Li says. “I want to tell them that art should not be stereotyped, and there is always something one could ‘dig’ if he keeps asking questions.”

Ti Gong

Paris-based Shanghai artist Li Zili (fourth from right) has recently been appointed Distinguished Professor by the Fine Arts College at Shanghai University.

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