Associated with the New Literati painting movement, Li Jin is a Chinese contemporary artist known for his large, raucous works in ink, often depicting men and women indulging in pleasures of eating and carnal intimacy.Read More
Born in Tianjin, Li Jin studied Chinese Painting at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1983. Following his studies, Li Jin travelled to Tibet where he stayed for several years, affirming his affinity with Buddhism. Drawn to the region's religiosity, history and sense of time, the artist sought the meaning of an authentic life, and to connect with nature. His reflections on Buddhist teaching and the transient nature of life informed early ink works such as Lama (1992) and Landscape with Sutra (1993).
In 1993, during a formative period in the growing liberalisation of contemporary China, Li Jin left Tibet and returned to Beijing. In Nanjing he encountered the New Literati painter Zhu Xinjian, whose practice came to strongly influence Li Jin's own.
Li Jin's style is characterised by the aesthetics of xianhuo or 'aliveness'. Portraying a range of characters, often including the artist himself, Li Jin presents humorous, playful images of figures engaged in acts of feasting, sexual intimacy, and other quotidian aspects of life.
From the beginnings of his practice, Li Jin engaged with subjects of food and intimacy. In the early 2000s, he explored familial and sexual dynamics in coloured ink vignettes, illustrated in works such as Family of Three (2004), and the raunchy ink painting, Bathing (2007).
Banquets are also a core subject of Li Jin's oeuvre. Some of the artist's banquet scenes are devoid of figures, focusing instead on depicting magnificent traditional banquet spreads, while others include a rich figurative tableau. In these dreamlike scenes of affluent indulgence, characters from all walks of life gather in various states of undress around tables laden with food, indulging both in eating and in sex.
In Li Jin's whimsical Banquet No.1 (2012), the male figures are mostly based on the artist's self-image—dressed in attire ranging from a pig suit to ancient Chinese scholar robes. His representations of voluptuous, exposed bodies embrace the imperfections of human forms.
Colourful and and caricature-like, Li Jin's works reflect the exuberance an enthusiasm with which he paints.
From around 2015, Li Jin began to produce ink works on paper with a more subdued or monochromatic palette in the vein of traditional Chinese ink painting.
In his 'Arhat' (2015) and 'Ink Adept' (2016) series, a shift towards a more gestural, freehand style is evident, with the artist exploring the behavioural properties of the medium and leaving some elements to chance. Around the same time, Li Jin created a series of large-scale ink paintings depicting various vegetables, such as a bok choy in Vegetable #3 (2015). The tradition of vegetable painting, and in particular those rendered in monochromatic inks, dates back to at least the 13th century in China. Li Jin's magnification of banal everyday objects can be seen to sympathise with Buddhist values of emphasising the mundane.
In his later practice, the Li Jin has increasingly returned to a broader use of colour, and incorporated scenes from his travels abroad—such as in Impressions of Bali (2017), a coloured ink on paper work comically depicting tourists at the beach
Reflecting the format of his earlier banquet paintings, Banquet for the times (2020) presents a series of characters including a bare-chested tattooed man, a geisha, and an anthropomorphised pig. Several of the characters are referenced from portraits of the artist in costume from different periods. At the table is a modest spread of food and drink, while the wall behind bears the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva—a foundational Buddhist text—in Chinese calligraphy.
Li Jin has been the subject of solo and group exhibitions in China and internationally.
Select solo exhibitions include: Flesh and Bone, Ink Studio, Beijing (2019); A Devout Foodist's Journey to the West, Sotheby's S|2, Los Angeles (2017); The Sensory Life of the Mass: 30 Years of Li Jin, Long Museum, Shanghai (2015); Li Jin•Today•Banquet, Today Art Museum, Beijing (2012); Li Jin's Figurative Ink-Wash Paintings, Stockholm Art Gallery (2000).
Select group exhibitions include: GG | ABHK 2020, Gajah Gallery, Singapore (2020); Ink and the Body, Ink Studio, Beijing (2014); Illusion: Contemporary Chinese Ink and Wash Painting Exhibition I, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2013); Fresh Ink: Ten Takes on Chinese Tradition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2010); Contemporary Ink Painting From China, Staatliche Museen Berlin (2008); Art Changsha, Changsha Bamboo Slips Museum, Hunan (2007); The Difference Between You and Me, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2005); I_nternational Paper: Drawings by Emerging Artists_, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2003).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021
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