Solitary Island of Modern Art, the Birth of a Grand Paintin-Impression on Liu Yaming Author:Wang Su Date: 2010-08-25 Size:
One day in 1980s when Liu Yaming was still an unknown person with art, he was hungry and dizzy in one street of Shanghai, without a coin in his pocket.

"God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light." The well-known saying from The Bible could be regarded as an oracle for painters.

Some afternoon in May, in the studio in the north of Beijing and at the foot of Yanshan Mountain, Liu Yaming was painting a large-scale portrait. He was standing towards the sunshine outside, with his whiskers eye-dazzling in the peaceful afternoon sun, while it was his self-portrait standing proudly and rebelliously in the canvas. The two figures were echoing to each other, as they were encouraging and appreciating or examining and criticizing each other. The canvas was placed back-lighted, with distinctive blue, white, red and green paints.

Then Liu Yaming turned the easel gently to change the position between him and the canvas, which was poured with an afternoon sunbeam of three or four o’clock at once, adding vividness to the painting. The lines and colors were suddenly enriched with three-dimension: the outline was connected with the surface as a whole, the oil and the colors were fully merged with each other with the light and the hard paintcoats faded to natural dimensional layers, thus showing the correspondence between blue and white and the integration between red and green. Facing the canvas, Liu Yaming was looking at his portrait on the painting seriously. His profile against the light almost overlapped with the one on the canvas. Standing aside, I got an instant feeling that he and the portrait combined into one, yet I was not sure whether it was he who got into the painting to find the other or it was the figure in the self-portrait that came out for him. I guess they sought for each other. “God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Yes, let there be light, and there was light on the canvas. Only in the light could we find ourselves and our shadows. In the light, we know about ourselves. Maybe that’s just why so many painters have been fond of drawing self-portraits through the ages.

In the light and from the self-portrait with light, we get to know this artist.

My impression on Liu Yaming started from the moment that the sunbeam poured into his to-be-finished self-portrait. From then one, his name and symbol turned to be vivid and lively to me.

The first time I met Liu Yaming was during the CCTV’s production of a special film for him. I was there for the last two hours before the production was completed, watching the film director guiding for angles, distances, directions and positions. As far as I see, a painter is supposed to be initiative with art, as he chooses the canvas and paints, adjusts the colors and guides the lines, while the artist in front of me was being manipulated by others. I thought the rug-featured man might lose him temper, but he was not; on the contrary, he was quite cooperative and showing great understanding. He was on place even before the director finished his words with outstanding agility in understanding and reaction, from which people assumed that he might have had frequent exposure. He explained that it was not because of exposure but his two-year experience as an art designer for TV series Longing and Stories From The Editorial Board. No wonder he was so familiar with developing a film. I became very curious on his past. I guess a person like him might have a lot of experience.

#p#副标题#e#I like person with various stories and different features, who could live a rich and colorful life with his natural performance. I have the instinct belief that Liu Yaming is a man with great stories and I always believe that only a person coming from different stories could produce outstanding art.

I asked him why to give up the promising job as an art designer and turn to painting. He told me that he is good at art designing, yet for painting, he not only is good at it, but also loves it. Here it is, what else except love do we need to explain his choice? Love speaks loudest for a career, not to mention the specialty.

At the intervals of film developing, he was still painting. Even when the director asked him to pose to paint, he was not just making the set-up but doing real painting. From a set-up brief respite, we could feel his ease-taking in the midst of pressing affairs. In his left outside of the window was the green Yanshan Mountain and inside the right side of the window were the photographers and machines. He was quite relaxed and leisurely in the natural and man-made scenes. Is he too pure to pretend? Or is he so smart to make every use of the time to do what he wants? I guess both are applicable for a man like this.

Liu Yaming purses his lips and knits his brows when painting. The whiskers disguise the youth in his face but couldn’t cover his passion to art. Standing in front of the canvas with great enthusiasm, he’s waving the painting brushes with colorful paints rapidly, which flow to the camera and blurs the lens.

He’s at the summit of his creation. His overbearing posture and brimming passion when painting wing his spirit of the youth, while he is mature and realiable as a middle-aged man when not touching the canvas with the brushes, at the time of which, he’s a great river flowing to open land rather a cheerful running stream.

It is the passion and reliability that help attain the great works in front of me: Way of Liberation towards the Nether World. The self-portrait mentioned above was just the true picture when he created this great work. I was first introduced to his painting album and came to his studio as I was attracted by this great work in the album.

There are four reasons to call it great work.

The first is its huge size, which is 16 meters in length and 2.8 meters in height.

The second reason comes with the long creation period. He took two years to finish this painting, during the period of which, he committed himself with full time and energy in the painting except a few portraits. After two years of refusing to seeing visitors and engaging in painting, his friends were surprised to see that he got hunchbacked.

The third is the epic theme and subject. It’s a panorama of all kinds of people, mirroring social problems and deep connotations from many angles. The depression and hesitation, suppression and crying as well as helplessness and struggle of modern people are clearly presented in the painting: the lose of belief in darkness and the search in the dim light, the conflict and combination of the east and the west, the repression of real life and efforts to settle the cramped heart, the expansion of township and deterioration of environment, the hardship and ideologism of people trapped inside and trying to break through, etc. It reflects the modern anxiety of not only Chinese people, but also the whole world. Moreover, it reveals people’s efforts to get rid of the anxiety; or in other words, the painter is try to find the direction and way out of the modern disease for human people. Though it seems a little bit presumptuous, it’s respectful.

Fourthly, it’s the shocking effects from its classical language of oil painting. Liu Yaming is not a naughty child who scatters the ancient clock of art (like those young men with the so-called “modern art”), but perseveres with the contemporary expression and modern description of classical art. In the painting of 16m×2.8m, the painter shows us his various skills with passion and exquisiteness: sharp esthesis to abstract affairs, generalizing capability with people and various acts, understanding and upgrading ability to some epic theme, visualizing ability towards abstraction, realistic and expressive ability in describing all kinds of people, vivid expression of people’s normal mind with a fleet countenance, etc. The painter brushes his sympathy and deep love towards all the living with the ruthless exposure, in a realistic way yet free, showing the invisible matters with the visible ones and presenting the modern art in classical art style. The visual impact of the monumental work and the psychological impact from the fine and exquisite description are integrated together to strike the audience’s mind. It is so shocking that some audience can’t help tearing in front of the painting, and I saw for myself when a Taiwan painter residing in France first came to Liu Yaming’s studio, at his first sight of the painting, his flesh of his arms crept. He’s among the majority showing strong physical and mental reactions towards the painting.

#p#副标题#e#There is a reproduction of Night Watch of Rembrandt on the bookshelf in Liu Yaming’s studio. Is it to show respect to the great master, or remind himself to keep with the master or is it to encourage himself to surpass the master? I guess all is right, since a Chinese classical painter nowadays should be rational and confident.

Born in Sichuan, though Liu Yaming has a rugged-looking face of northern people, he’s meticulous like the fine rain as a southerner. He kept in mind when the photographer blurted out that he wanted to buy some organic eggs and called the countrywoman nearby to send the eggs after they finished the shooting, from which we could see his thoughtfulness. Personality comes from details. His respect and concern to people around him are rooted in his genuine solicitude and deep sympathy to human. In other words, it might be his behaviors and thinking in daily life that generate his common affection towards the living status of human being.

Even till now, I’m still not sure why he chose Yanshan Mountain as his base of art, yet once he pointed to me the lines of the mountain and said, “Look, doesn’t it look like the graceful curve of a reclining Buddha?” I guess he might have found the charm of his hometown in the south from the rough Yanshan Mountain. Years of life in the northern area have covered him with a rugged looking face, but he shows refined delicacy like the southern landscapes. It might be the so-called chivalrous appearance and tenderness inner heart.

Liu Yaming was born in Neijiang, Sichuan Province, a street away from the birth place of Master Zhang Daqian. Liu Yaming didn’t leave the small town before he was 20, thus he’s familiar with the mountains and rivers, grass and trees, the numerous temples and frescos and statues on the cliffsides, interesting and dangers places, hospitality and hostility, heartache and upset past happenings, laugh-evoking and tears-inducing memories. All the fleeting time and happenings of his hometown stay in his beard and moustache and are stored in the negative film of his art career as his cultural memories of the early period. After he walked out of the town, he develops them with paints and brushes into colorful paintings, gentle or hard, poetic or blue, rational or addicted.

The free air in the culture of the small town has combined with the times he lives in and his great compassion towards life into the flowing headwaters of his epic painting. I suppose Liu Yaming is destined to draw the grand painting, and it must also be the growing trend of classicism in modern China.

“On the city wall the warlord’s banners keep changing.” “You just finished and I come to the scene.” In the times that art has witnessed numerous changes, Liu Yaming responds flexibly with a fundamental principle that there are some rules unbreakable with art, which retain art as it is. As a painter remaining undeterred by the trend for almost thirty years and standing with classical painting, he distinguishes himself from others with his classical artworks, drawing great attention from the art circles as a peaceful harbor and solitary island among the art ocean of dysphoria. He has been invited to the Chengdu Biennale to be held soon with this epic painting. What will it splash? How will it ripple among the audience then?

This painting might have marked Liu Yanming fundamental change with his oil paintings after accumulation for years. In this way, the birth of this epic painting could be considered as symbol of the painter’s Nirvana.

In 1988, as a young man in his early twenties fond of art, Liu Yaming gave up his admirable job at the local TV station and came to Beijing by himself with 300 yuan from the small city of Neijiang, Sichuan Province, adrift then in Beijing for 25 years. He’s been a real professional painter rare in China, getting himself isolated from the system and the main trend of art for the 25 years. He never gives up his art dream when pursuing in the marginal edge. He’s single-minded in art: in 1980s, he was painting when many painters plunged into the commercial sea; in 1990s, he was painting when many painters turned to action and installation art; in 2010, when many painters are engaged in concept and photography art and pursuing for high price in art market, he’s still acting as he did in the past, drawing his classical paintings in his studio with his personal expression and even keeping himself at home for two years in order to draw a huge painting. He’s not as cynical and irritating as young men doing the so called modern art, nor does he as hippie and indifferent as some of his peers. He’s with high sense of responsibility compared with the former ones and admires the holy sublime compared with the latter. He’s determined rather than changeable and he remains calm and steadfast in the overbearing tide of surging fashion rather than admires and follows the art trend. The wind does not subside yet the tree could stay calm, but how powerful should one be to keep his countenance in front of the numerous and mighty allure? I believe that as a common person living in the present world, in friendly remonstrance of his relatives and friends as well as in rejection and suppression of his enemies, he must have encountered self-doubt and hesitation, struggle and suffering, and he might have asked his heart for many times. It’s hard to imagine how much torture he experienced before he constrained his steps downstairs and prevented himself from falling into the garish and showy art fashion with the so called smart heads. Holding fast to his ground is holding fast to the art ideal and self-salvation is the salvation of art. In the present art circles, it’s common to see flexible vision and quick mind but not the continuous exploration with willfulness like what he does. He has had a hard time in Beijing, e.g., he moved for 16 times, but no one could really experience his dull exploration and liberality, his rejection and defense as well as his torture and struggle. Though he hasn’t received any formal education at any art academies, he has mastered the essential part of classical painting language after numerous experiments and learning all by himself and is looking for breakout. Trace back the art masters with their own styles, how many of them became masters when they graduated from art academies? Masters are not learnt to be, but created all by themselves in solitude.

One day in 1980s when Liu Yaming was still an unknown person with art, he was hungry and dizzy in one street of Shanghai, without a coin in his pocket. He was thinking that if there were someone buying him a meal, he would be grateful to him/her for his whole life. Right then, an old classmate in the other side of the street called him and talked to him with the first words, “Long time no see. I’ll invite you to some western-style food.” He had a big meal. From then on, he often tells others, “The miracle will come to you if you pray sincerely.” We might as well interpret the sentence in this way: when a man perseveres for several years as if it were one day with an art ideal and acts out in spite of toil and hardships, the ideal will come true.

Liu Yaming, a painter more than one can tell, is a potential master of the times.

He who draws epic paintings is not necessarily a master, but he who draws in this way is a potential master.

I’m looking forward to seeing the potential come true.

By Wang Su, a writer and art critic

[Editor] Elemy Liu