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Trees, Rocks, Mist and Mountains by Li Huayi

Eskenazi Ltd.

At the Ukrainian Institute at 1 East 79th Street

March 25 to April 3, 2010

"Branches of Pine with Rocks" by Li Huayi

"Branches of Pine with Rocks," Pair of six-fold screens, ink on silk with gold ground, framed, dimensions of each screen to edge of frame: 382 by 176 cm; Left screen signed: Wuzi nian zhongqiu Li Huayi xie (Li Huayi painted this on a mid-autumn day of the Wuzi year [2008]); right screen signed: Wuzi nian chunri Li Huayi xie (Li Huayi painted this on a spring day of the Wuzi year [2008])

By Michele Leight

The magnificent large panels of gold silk on view at the Eskenazi Ltd. exhibition of Li Huayi's work, "Trees, Rocks, Mist and Mountains," at the Ukrainian Institute on Fifth Avenue at 79th Street in New York from March 25 to April 3, 2010, together with other large, monochromatic, stunning landscape paintings have the magnified appearance of traditional Chinese hanging paintings and scrolls, without the traditional silk borders and formality of their classical counterparts.

"Rock and Pine" by Li Huayi

"Rock and Pine," by Li Huayi; Two-fold screen, ink on paper, with gold ground, 185 by 170 cm., signed: Wuzi nian Li Huayi bi (painted by Li Huayi in the Wuzi year [2008])

Those that are forced by circumstances to leave their homeland at some point in their lives seem to appreciate the art of their past more intensely. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and longing is a powerful trigger for creativity. That void of the lost or left behind is often replaced via the arts, and, as can be seen in the paintings here, with magical results.

"Waterfall in Ravine" by Li Huayi

"Waterfall in Ravine," Ink and colour on paper, 97 by 184.5 cm., Signed: Jichou nian xiari Li Huayi xie (paintd by Li Huayi on a summer day of Jichou [2009]); with one seal of the artist: Li Huayi

When Li Huayi originally left China for America, he began painting contemporary versions of the Chinese landscapes depicted by the Northern Song Dynasty artists, centuries ago - circa 960 to 1127 - superimposing them with influences of a new life in a new land - yet they are wholly contemporary.

"Mountain Range with Receding View" by Li Huayi

"Mountain Range with Receding View," Six-panel screen, with hanging scroll in front, ink and color on paper, framed, each panel: 91.5 by 183 cm, dimensions of hanging scroll: 97 by 201.5cm, left hand panel inscribed: Shanyue qianlongmai ('Sublime mountains, hidden dragons'): Central hanging scroll with two seals of the artist: Li and Huayi. Right hand panel signed: Wuzi nian xiari Li Huayi guan Jiulongtu youguan'erxie.

Li Huayi was inspired to paint "Mountain Range with Receding View," illustrated above, after seeing the 'Nine Dragon Painting' on a summer day in 2008. This is the famous Nine Dragon Scroll by Chen Rong, dated 1244, which is almost 11 metres long, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"Song Mountain Landscape" by Li Huayi

"Song Mountain Landscape," Ink and color on paper, mounted on silk as a hanging scroll, 89 by 177 cm, signed: Dinghai chunri Li Huayi xie Xiyue juebi ni Songren bi (Li Huayi painted the Huashan cliff, in a Song manner, on a Spring day of the Dinghai year [2007]); with one seal of the artist: Huayi.

Instead of the mists and mountains of his paintings resembling widely reproduced, populist replicas of Classical Chinese paintings, Li Huayi has breathed new life into an age-old art form. As in the most magnificent Song Dynasty paintings, nature dominates, pristine and awe-inspiring. Humans, if they are present at all, are mere shadows. Searching for clues about time or place in the vast swirling mists of Li Huayi's work, one becomes lost in abstraction. It is like viewing an Abstract Expressionist painting. They are timeless, contemporary - universal.

Li Huayi was born in 1948, and began studying art at the age of 6 in his native China. Like many of his contemporaries, he survived the Cultural Revolution as a "worker artist," churning out formulaic propaganda art for the masses. When he left for San Francisco in 1982, aged 34, the Northern California landscape beckoned, and soon became an inspiration and catalyst for his return to landscape painting.

"Jagged Peak" by Li Huayii

"Jagged Peak,"Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; dimensions: 95.5 x 184.5 cm, signed: Wuzi nianmo Li Huayi bi (Li Huayi painted this at the end of the Wuzi year [2008]); with one seal of the artist: Juechuhuazhang duchengyige.

The epic scale of propaganda art designed to arrest the viewers attention is evident in all the works at this exhibition, while the artist's stylistic fusion of American Abstraction and Classical Chinese Painting utilizes delicate ink brush painting and calligraphy, which the Classical Chinese painters developed to perfection. Li Huayi has mastered this gorgeous technique, but there is something infinitely bolder in the way he wields his brushes.

Chinese brushes allow far greater spontaneity than any Western brush; they are flexible, respond to the slightest hand movement, and are especially effective when propelled by emotion. To the mystical medium of Chinese ink - that leaves no margin for error or revision - Li Huayi adds faint blushes of color, once again emulating the great Song masters of the past.

"Sheer Cliffs in Mist" by Li Huayi

"Sheer Cliffs in Mist, "Hanging scroll. Vertical panel, ink and color on paper, dimensions: 99 by 201.5 cm., signed: Yichou nian mengxia ni Songrenbiyi Li Huayi xie (Li Huayi painted this, in Song manner, at the start of summer in the Yichou year [2009]); with one seal of the artist: Li Huayi

Of his new work, Li Huayi has said: "Painting calligraphy is the only true art form (for Chinese). I mix the ancient with the new by using Song painting methods, painting in brushstrokes, but I give a personality to each tree and rock, this is what makes my painting different. The concept of painting on screens is not new, though the old masters would not have painted on Japanese screens. The texture of the gold screens is close to the silk I have painted on before so it does not feel so different, although the final impression certainly is."

"Branches of Pine with Rocks," by Li Huayi, Pair of six-fold screens, ink on silk with gold ground, framed; each screen 382 by 176 cm

Different they certainly are, while retaining the mystery of the past.

Li Huayi's landscapes are majestic in scale and magnificent in detail.

Li Huayi's work is well known in the United States and can be found in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas and Harvard University Art Museum. He has exhibited to critical acclaim in California and New York as well as in Hong Kong and his native main land China.

Li Huayi lives and works in Shanghai and San Francisco, one of America's most beautiful cities - filled with inspiring mountains and mists reminiscent of China, that are a recurring theme in his work.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue ($50), with an introduction by Robert Mowry, Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art and Head of the Department of Asian Art, Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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