I remember the first time I saw Li Shuang’s paintings while I was gallery sitting as an undergraduate. Six paintings lined the walkway entrance, emanating a regal elegance and an undeniable calm. Quirky details like a floating lotus or a butterfly right on the edge of the canvas felt like secret codes. Before I knew it, I had been staring at each painting for hours. Time stood still for me and I felt as though I was staring at my own reflection in still waters – I was struck by its quiet beauty.
As I read more about the artist, I soon understood that each element is a reflection of her own history, from being born to a scholarly family during the cultural revolution to finding love and her artistic awakening as the only female artist founder for the Star group which led to her imprisonment by China and eventual extraction to Paris.
Li Shuang’s artistic career can be traced back to 1980 but her contemporary works from 1995 onwards have been described as mainly of Chinese women painted in a classical style with religious elements. Her fascination with female figures can be traced to her earlier works; her style however has evolved with a more pronounced technique. The women now portrayed smooth oval faces, with small delicate mouths, long noses and slanted eyes. There is no focus on the body shape but symbols and backdrops are merged seamlessly with these figures, creating a pleasant ambience – no disruption.
Back in town after her last show in 2007, we had a quick chat with Li Shuang on her artistic journey and influences.
Sharifah Shahirah: You have in the past described your artistic journey as personal. Can you share with us, how your life story have influenced your art making?
Li Shuang: I’ve always been sensitive to art having been born into a cultured Chinese family. I grew up, deeply influenced by my grandfather, an antique dealer who was passionate about art and history. At the age of 12, I started to paint during the Cultural Revolution. Art is inseparable from the history of my life, it is not a job but second nature to me.
My paintings are ever changing; it’s full of styles and universes that are a reflection of my spiritual growth and experiences. A longer life offers me moments of maturity, which I move, touch wisdom and transfer these onto the canvas. Progressing over time, I transcribed what I see and feel inside me, I draw deep from lessons of life to guide my brush on the canvas.
Moreover, I would say that it is the men around me who have played a major role in my life; it is with them that I created the movement of “The Stars” and where I was the only woman. At this time, The Stars represented a group of artists on the fringes of society with the aim to follow an artistic path, create a new trend in China and refusing to follow the mainstream of painting and Western art.
Today we are still valuable and loyal friends after all these years. We are always exchanging and are more concentrated on culture, art and the power that China has and will have on the global art market. China now has ten leading contemporary artists, and there are many more to come. Our nation is one of fewest countries with centuries of history. I am pleased about the Chinese art international development. At the beginning of the Star Group our desire was to push contemporary art on the world stage, for and thanks to the expression of art. At that time, I was the only woman and I fully assume that part of my life where I had the courage as a woman to impose myself while I was imprisoned and tortured. But I stayed strong and faithful to my friends for the future of our history and our art –tirelessly defending my ideals.
SS: Can you share with us at least one symbol in your paintings and what it signifies as well as the inspiration for your 2014 series?
LS: Each work in the past editions is a peek into my soul: for example the lotus is the symbol of peace that I managed to find after my personal dramas. Unlike the past series, which was about my life, the 2014 series is more about universal love, fireworks, joy and colours. This new work titled Gaia is an expression of my connection with Mother Earth. The paintings are homage to Mother Earth and each portrait reflects my respect for it and what it offers, combining collage and humans as prompts on canvas, because our generous Earth gives us everything.
SS: Who are your top three favourite artists (living or dead) that you would host a dinner party with?
LS: There is a Chinese saying that there is no point eating with death. I don’t think I would have a big gathering in Beijing either, around the Museum with my friends where we presented and talked about our common passion, art.
My favourites however are Marc Chagall, Sandro Botticelli and Andy Warhol.
I love Chagall, for his inner passions that flow like a torrent and freedom, Botticelli, because it inspires me from his use of colours that I am very sensitive to, and Warhol for his provocation, colours and revolutionary painting technique of super positioning his impressions on beautiful faces. For me, it launched a movement on the colour (pop!) and his way of repeating the image opened another artistic dimension, he was a great creative!
Showcasing her 2014 series of paintings titled Gaia, Li Shuang will be featured in the upcoming Singapore Contemporary Art Show from 21 to 24 January 2016.
Sharifah Shahirah is a dreamer, art lover, and quote collector. Her favourite quote is” We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect” Anais Nin.