“Reality is absolutely vital to me. No matter what I do, reality must be there as my anchor. Without it I can do nothing. My self-awareness and my understanding of the reality are also my focuses in my application of various mediums.”
- Liu Wei
Reality is the keyword that defines all of Liu Wei's creative pieces. A self-proclaimed 'formalist,' Liu Wei dabbles in a wide variety of media; his aesthetic vocabulary is as diverse as it is unique. He seeks to explore the many complex yet subtle relationships between modern metropolises and living. His macroscopic vision and strong visuals make Liu a stalwart in contemporary Chinese art, drawing critical acclaim from the international art community, including a large-scale solo exhibition of his work, entitled Liu Wei: Colours, held in early 2015 at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Liu’s Purple Air series is characterised by a numeralised and abstract composition, geometrically architectural structures, and a unique colour scheme to acknowledge another possibility of a regenerated urban landscape.
Purple Air III No. 2 (Lot 16) was created in 2006 as one of the earliest pieces within the series. A range of grays tones make up the dominating colour palette, complemented by a discreet touch of sharp, vibrant colours. Compared to later works from the same series, with stronger, more spirited colouring, the flat techniques and abstract composition allows Purple Air III No. 2 to radiate an impression inspired by minimalism. Beauty of modern city is captured by a combination of shapes, linears and colours. The rhythmic repetition of abstract elements is resmincent of industrial landscape by American artist Charles Sheeler (Fig. 1). Purple Air III No. 2 is notable for its intricate details: sandwiched between the smooth vertical lines and blocks are rolling curves, giving the presentation a cadenced texture. The primary grays in the painting also shift and change, testifying Liu's strong command of colour, while echoing the original artistic perspective of the series. “In ancient China, when a place appeared to be laden with purple air, it meant that it was imbued with grays; it suggested great vitality. Troubling issues remain, sure; but the energy is there.” Indeed, development and destruction are played out continuously, and Purple Air III No. 2 captures that in its essence. By bending the rules and challenging the viewer's senses with his strong visual language, Liu seeks to awaken viewer's perception of one's living space with new images.
Liu believes that art is more than just concepts: it has to incorporate powerful visual elements that resonate with the viewer. Upon graduating from the Department of Oil Painting at China Academy of Art, he participated in an exhibition curated by Qiu Zhijie and others in 1999 entitled “Post Sensibility: Dysmorphism and Paranoia.” The exhibition sought to find another path that had depart from the conceptual art movement of the time, to instead focus on the sensibility and immediacy of the work. This infectious emphasis on the creation is also reflected in Purple Air III No. 2. The expansive structure and the panoramic composition is gripping, much like the city captured by Gursky's lens (Fig. 2). Liu first outlined the composition with computer software, transferring it to the canvas, and filling it out with colours. This creative experiment opened a new artistic journey for Liu. Lying between precision and randomness, the geometric and abstract composition in Purple Air III No. 2 pulses with a sense of the cutting-edge, a manifestation of the warmth and uncertainty that can only come from human touch. The viewer's line of vision is guided by Liu's carefully-constructed colours and lines. The skyscrapers are no longer peices in an unfeeling “cement jungle,” but instead are now a dynamic organism. The circle on the upper left of the painting, particularly striking in this linear universe, seems to be a hybrid of the sun and moon. It metaphorically suggests the verve and fire of a big city through nature's inexhaustible spirit.
A hallmark of an outstanding artists is to be able to provide an accurate observation of their surroundings; their work is always reflective of the uniqueness of that age such as in the gentlemen and ladies strolling in scenic Paris depicted by the Impressionist artist or Mondrian’s deftly depicted fusion of New York's bustling streets with jazz music. Similarly, Liu's art thrived and grew in a time when China experienced swift socioeconomic development as a result of his observations about the way the country endured those changes and impacts. Liu remarked, “the city is a reality, and China is a developing city as a whole. She impacts you, and you cannot ignore her. You can ponder the reasons behind the movement: they are dominated by the political system.” Apart from its engaging aesthetic, Purple Air III No.2 also highlights issues of public concern. While mundanity of daily life can make a person numb to their surroundings, Liu's cityscapes upend the viewer's perception, thus propelling them to rediscover the city's reality.