"Hometown Boy"Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing,Through February 20,2011
Source:Artinfo Author:Madeleine O'Dea Date: 2011-01-04 Size:
Liu's paintings can seem crude, with their virile strokes and vivid colors, but they are magical as well. Standing in front of his canvases is never a passive experience, you are always engaged, drawn in, and entirely convinced of the reality of his subjects.


Liu Xiaodong's "Jincheng Airport," 2010

"There's something really crude about painting," Liu Xiaodong wrote in the diary he kept during the three months he spent this summer painting in his hometown, "crude in a way that's both absurd and magical." Liu's paintings can seem crude, with their virile strokes and vivid colors, but they are magical as well. Standing in front of his canvases is never a passive experience, you are always engaged, drawn in, and entirely convinced of the reality of his subjects.

Liu likes to work from life. For one of the paintings in "Hometown Boy," he took his canvas to a karaoke club in full swing, where he sat and painted. Finishing the work — a portrait of a friend bathed in neon light — took him an hour and a half, by which time he was drenched in sweat. The artist then, as he recorded in his diary, "belted out a few barnstormers."

Liu does not stand aloof from his subjects. From his earliest works — unstudied scenes of friends smoking, bathing, hanging out — he has painted the world he encounters. In recent years, he has taken to traveling around China, trying to catch a society in transition through portraits of its most vulnerable members. In the early years of this century he created a monumental series of canvases depicting the ordinary people displaced by the Three Gorges Dam project. Last year, he traveled along the harshest stretches of the old Silk Road to the northwestern Gansu Province in an attempt to discover what was left of the ancient trading culture there.


Xiaodong's "Xiao Dou Hanging Out at the Pool Hall," 2010

But this year he decided to take a different kind of journey, returning to his hometown in China's rugged northeast to spend three months painting the friends and the places he left behind. The works he has created for the show "Hometown Boy" capture a place that has lost its luster. When Liu left Jincheng to study art in Beijing it was a bustling industrial town where life circulated around a thriving paper mill. Today, unemployment is rampant, friends who are still in their forties are retired, and life has an aimless feel.

At the center of the show is a painting ironically titled "Jincheng Airport." In this work, Liu gathers all the friends of his youth within the frame. They are depicted playing cards on an overgrown airstrip beside a long-decommissioned plane. They are intent on their game, seemingly oblivious to the setting. In a corner of the frame, however, is a small fenced-off vegetable garden. These people are making the most of their broken world, and Liu is right there with them.

[Editor] Lola Xu

    Artintern