Interviewer: Duan Jun Guest: Li Zi
Duan Jun: The scenery description in your works is very gloomy, which reminds me of the dark forest in Northern Europe. Even the buildings you depicted are full of mysteries. But these scenes are rare to witness in our real lives. So, I am curious about the reason why you paint like this. Is it related to your traveling experiences or your inward feelings?
Li Zi: This is the most wonderful thing to me, because when I am painting, my raw materials come from the photos taken by me or my friends. I like taking some interesting views for reference when painting, trying to depict the mysterious feelings I extract from those scenery photos, which were basically all taken in China. Whereas when they finally find their way into my painting, they will lose their Chinese characteristics and assume an air of Northern Europe and exude a mysteriously cold charm. I have to admit that this happens because of my own temperament. I am drawn to mysterious things. There is an exotic soul in my body. I don't think it necessary that my works should be tainted by the so-called "Chinese elements". I am a Chinese and I live in China, which makes it inevitable that I carry with me the Chinese way of thinking. Thus my works are created by a Chinese mind with our special touch of fragileness and fatalism, which are more Chinese than the currently popular elements of ink painting. I never deliberately try to heighten the Chinese feature in my paintings, because I deem it unnecessary and superfluous, which is probably why my works are considered by many to be the result of more than one culture blending together. This mingling is exactly what I need to make my works mysterious and inscrutable. I go to Europe almost on a yearly basis, it seems to me extremely familiar and I would feel agitated and lack of inspiration if I stay away from Europe for more than two years. I almost feel that it was the place where I had spent my previous life. It seems to me that the experiences of our lives are mysterious and unpredictable.
Duan Jun: White animals have the significance of guarding or brightness when placed in a rather dim or geometrical space. What's your original intention of this collocation? Do those statues mean anything else other than their distinct contrast in intensity with the dim environment? Are they supposed to be humans in a more illusory sense? Li Zi: The reason why I began to use statues instead of human figures that had repeatedly appeared in my drawings in the past few years was that I was growing tired of them. I felt increasingly powerless at attaching more emotional sense to the human figures. I need more dynamic alterations of the rhythm, composition, techniques, language and details of my paintings, which are the key components of the whole scene. The human figures in my previous paintings are not appealing enough to me anymore, they are not sufficient to express what I have in mind. I have more intense emotions to confess, not just the fatalism in love or the desperation in the eyes of death towards the world. I want people to see my reflection on desperation through my works. The statues in my paintings are all very famous ones, including that of Caesar and the renowned representatives of the Baroque Period: Rape of the Sabine Women and The Dying of the Goddess. Those statues have some kind of special senses attached to them. In my paintings, I arrange these statues in a miraculous order and place them in a grove or beside the grass of a river bank. There are even some geometrical lines appear as if they are from another time or space. The combination of these uncertain elements brings about a mixed sensation of mystery, formality, dignity and fatalism, which grant the whole picture with an ineffable effect in a positive way.
Duan Jun: Are you interested in Buddhism? Li Zi: I am interested in all the religions and have read a lot of religious books, including the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran and Heart Sutra, among which Heart Sutra was written with the most brilliant grace and reading it provides a soothing effect.
Duan Jun: The completion of a painting is a rather long period. While you are painting or modifying, do you go through transformations in your emotion or perception and comprehension of art? Do you get some kind of joy or dynamic feelings during your creative process? Li Zi: The commencement of a rough draft is the most interesting part. The uncertainty offers me a great sense of excitement. I have a wonderful first impression of what I am going to draw, thus I always lay out the general framework within the first few hours. During the following period, I am just trying to optimize the keynote I laid at first. I tend to deliberately highlight the texture of my painting just to create some uncertain and accidental effect, which will in turn motivate my desire of creating and put me in a better mood to exercise my skills and also make the painting more affluent. After the completion of the general foundation, what I need to do next is to deal with the details. Some parts have been accomplished during the first phase and need no more alterations, while other parts require further endeavor of fixing. I will become exhausted during this period and am prone to become more sensitive. Although with a clear awareness of what parts need to be saved or revised, I still have to stand in front of the painting in silence for a few hours and determine how to revise them. This is the part where my former experiences are in earnest demand. Sometimes the painting becomes rather greasy because of my misjudgement, which will always inflict me with deep regret and depression. When this happens, I will try to soothe myself and repair the mistakes hopefully to guide the painting to the right direction. It's very important to figure out when to stop and remember to do it immediately. I want my work to possess a sense of freshness when it's completed.
Duan Jun: Does your selection of colors have anything to do with the inward sentiment of yours? Does your use of modest colors bear the expectation of purifying people's spirits? Li Zi: I tried to pour colors into this series until I realized that simple color system could achieve a more profound effect. Some people might find it more comfortable in colorful paintings, yet I myself think that the sense of mystery is better demonstrated through a simple color system.
Duan Jun: The somber coldness and gloom in your works pose a distinct contrast to your outward appearance and daily behavior, what's your opinion about your own characters, and how does that relate to your artistic creations? Li Zi: Outwardly, I am a very sunny and optimistic person, which is also many people's first impression about me. Thus the melancholy in my paintings could be the release of a long accumulation of emotion in my heart, which leads to another theory of mine. I feel that I've lived through many lives before I came to this one, and my experiences cover more than they now temporarily seem. My works do not merely concern the things I experienced in this life, they are also the expressions of my countless lives before. Of course this can never be proved because I can't actually remember any of those lives before this one. But my joyful state of mind while painting makes me still have faith in this miraculous supposition. The reason why I want to make painting a lifetime career is that I want to have my soul purified and I deeply appreciate the mysterious solemnity and dignity.
Duan Jun: Do you think the emotion let out is different between a pair of closed eyes and a pair of open ones? And how? Li Zi: I think a pair of closed eyes exudes more power for it contains the power of death and marks the beginning of another mysteriously unknown world.
Duan Jun: The sexually indistinct figures in your earlier works have left a deep impression on people. But compared with your later works, the former ones seem to be a little monotonous and short of further implications. Do you think your recent works are more obscure and complicated than your earlier works or the other way around? Is it true that subjectively created works are more intricate and more expressive of the theme "lost"? Li Zi: My new works are definitely more complicated than my previous ones. For me, a good work does not clarify every detail of itself, instead it always affords people a nameless sense. Even as the author, my explanation only covers a small portion of its vast profoundness, while the more of its depth needs to be explored by the viewers themselves. It's like when we are watching a movie, the story is easy to tell. The most fascinating part of a movie is not how exciting the story is but the sentiment it brings to people through the story.
Duan Jun: The spaces in your recent works seem to be more extensive, have you been intentionally working on that or pouring into them more of your personal experiences? Li Zi: I always wish my work to be a container of multiple spaces. Thus the seemingly odd geometrical lines in my works are intended at the complexity of the painting, which will in turn make the painting more intriguing and fascinating.