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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Diana Campbell Betancourt Ocula Conversation Diana Campbell Betancourt

Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...

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Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art Ocula Report Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 7 Mar 2019 : Mike Pinnington for Ocula

China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...

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Liu Xiaodong

b. 1963, China

Best known for his realistic and humanising paintings of everyday people in politically complex places, Beijing-based painter Liu Xiaodong (刘小东) is concerned with those left behind by modernisation and globalisation.

Born in 1963, Liu graduated from The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing with a BFA in 1988 and an MFA in 1995, and is considered a representative of China's 'New Generation' of artists, along with his wife, the figurative painter Yu Hong. His realistic style is influenced by his training in Socialist Realism at CAFA, a government-prescribed movement that focused on the conditions of the workers and was closely associated with the values of the Chinese Communist Party. Rejecting the propagandistic connotations of the genre, Liu retained the disciplined, formalist teachings to explore the idiosyncrasies of contemporary life in China and beyond.

Liu's approach to contemporary art is something of a nomadic, anthropological one. Adopting the methodology of the 'plein-air' painters of yesteryear, Liu sets up his easel on location to depict his subjects in their own environments. Domestic spaces, restaurants, pool halls, industrial sites and fields make up a few of the settings for his loosely painted portraits. Liu has described his modest methodology in four steps: 'Take some scaffolding; cover it in canvas to create a 10-square-metre pavilion. Paint inside, and when finished, take it apart. This is my studio.'

Through this process, Liu goes to great lengths to record the type of ordinary people not historically represented in oil paintings. In conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2016, Liu said, 'I only go into other people's lives to experience them. ... I don't want to summarise; I don't want to make a political stance. I want to just faithfully reproduce other people's lives.' As an example of this effort of representation, his 2012 'Hotan Project' series depicted scenes from the jade mining region of Xinjiang Province, while other works have depicted populations displaced by the Three Gorges Dam in the Yangtze River, Israeli-Palestinian conflict zones, South African landscapes, tableaux from Tibet, Bangladeshi steel workers and the private lives of sex workers and farmers.

His often large-scale artworks are at once both realistic and inventive, with form being rendered through thick, impasto applications of oil paint. One of his most well-known paintings, Out of Beichuan (2010), depicts seven young women among a shambled Sichuan landscape that had been hit by a devastating earthquake two years prior. With a conscientious attention to their humanity, the women are rendered with careful, distinctive features, while the hills and piles of rubble behind them are painted with chunky, staccato strokes. Similarly, the double-portrait Xiaojun and Xiuling (2015) depicts two figures in pink, fleshy paint, while the impervious highway and sky behind them are rendered in dull greys, contrasting vibrant life with impartial infrastructure.

Branching out from traditional methods of painting, in 2016, Liu presented Weight of Insomnia at Chronus Art Center in Shanghai: a mechanised installation in which robotic arms rendered images fed from distant security cameras in blue paint in the gallery. These cameras were positioned near the Bund in Shanghai, the Apple Store in Beijing's Sanlitun area and a public plaza in the artist's hometown in Liaoning Province. Removing his own hand from the work, Liu explored technology's rendering of time. As he relayed to Ocula Magazine, he 'wanted to show people the painting process, which is full of surprises. It can even be considered a performing art. It's very humorous and lively.'

The project was not Liu's first experimentation with moving image; his practice has always had close ties to film. In 2006, renowned Chinese director Jia Zhangke shot the documentary Dong, which followed Liu as he painted male labourers near the Three Gorges Dam in Fengjie, China, and later, young women in Bangkok, Thailand. Lingering on the marginalised people in both locales, Jia's film functioned less as a portrait of the painter and more as a considerate portrayal of his disenfranchised subjects. Liu also starred in Wang Xiaoshuai's directorial debut The Days (1993), acted as art director for Zhang Yuan's Beijing Bastards (1993) and was the subject of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2010 documentary Hometown Boy, which followed the artist as he returned to his rural hometown to paint his family and friends.

Liu currently lives and works in Beijing, where he teaches painting at CAFA.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

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Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Liu Xiaodong, Weight of Insomnia at Lisson Gallery, London
25 January–2 March 2019 Liu Xiaodong Weight of Insomnia Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Wandering in the Garden at Eslite Gallery, Taipei
6 January–14 February 2018 Group Exhibition Wandering in the Garden Eslite Gallery, Taipei

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

EVA International: Ireland’s Biennial Talks About Power Ocula Report EVA International: Ireland’s Biennial Talks About Power 6 Jul 2018 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

If Koyo Kouoh's 37th EVA International took the Easter Rising of 1916 as its starting point, marking the beginning of a revolutionary period that culminated in the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, then Inti Guerrero's follow-up edition continues the trajectory.With no title, the 38th edition of EVA International (14 April–8 July...

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Liu Xiaodong Ocula Conversation Liu Xiaodong Artist, China

Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong takes figure painting out of the studio and into the fields, factories and family homes of regions rife with political turmoil, economic unease, and environmental degradation. Setting up easels on location to depict real people in places such as rural China, Thailand, Tibet and Israeli-Palestinian conflict zones, Liu...

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Jens Faurschou Ocula Conversation Jens Faurschou Co-founder, Faurschou Foundation

When American artist Robert Rauschenberg opened his first and last gallery exhibition in China, (he died shortly thereafter), it was with Galleri Faurschou in Beijing, owned by Danish collectors Jens Faurschou, and his now former wife, Luise. Jens Faurschou took Ai Weiwei to see the show and the acclaimed Chinese artist, impressed by both the...

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Liu Xiaodong Ocula Conversation Liu Xiaodong Artist, China

For his first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaodong  was invited by the Lisson Gallery to produce a new body of work. The invitation resulted in the artist coming to London and spending six weeks in the city, a time in which he sought out his painting subjects through exploration and interaction, gradually discovering the...

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In Related Press

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25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007 Liu Xiaodong Related Press 25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007 Liu Xiaodong ArtAsiaPacific : 6 June 2018

Can Contemporary Chinese art be revived as a tool for social critique? Returning to the traditional medium of painting, Liu Xiaodong, whose solo exhibition '25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007' was up at Yallay Gallery in Hong Kong in March, makes a renewed case for this question, departing from the legacy of socialist realism that has occupied the medium...

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Liu Xiaodong Related Press Liu Xiaodong ArtReview : 6 June 2018

Just what is it that makes Liu Xiaodong's painting so different, so appealing? The fifty-year-old artist's work has been exhibited from Beijing (Hometown Boy at UCCA in 2011) to Graz (where The Process of Painting has just closed at Universalmuseum Joanneum); Parkett this month launched its 91st volume at Leo Koenig, New York, featuring editions by...

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Liu Xiaodong Related Press Liu Xiaodong https://frieze.com/article/liu-xiaodong-0 : 18 May 2017

Engaged with photography, film and painting for the past three decades, Liu Xiaodong has described his style as an 'open' one that explores thespaces between realism and abstraction. This vision is evident in theexhibition 'Chittagong', a series of paintings based on in situ researchof the everyday realities of the men working in...

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M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art exhibition comes to Hong Kong Related Press M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art exhibition comes to Hong Kong West Kowloon : 8 January 2016

M+, West Kowloon Cultural District, is delighted to announce that the tenth edition of the Mobile M+ exhibition series M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art will take place at ArtisTree in Taikoo Place from 23 February to 5 April 2016 with the support of Leading Sponsor Credit Suisse.M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of...

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