Li Zi's Painting: A Symbolistic and Oniric World


Maria Laura Perilli

It has been three years since Lizy’s exhibition “160 decibel” was held at the Yue Gallery China, to which I gave my personal contribution as Italian  curator  by writing a critical essay on her way of painting. I was aware from the very beginning that the power of her painting skills, combined with her strong personality, would be able to “take off” and get out of the canvas striking and pulling in the attention of onlookers . The magic aura given by the subjects of the paintings, which are grey and white, cannot just be perceived from a distance but becomes a powerful element that stands out and seems to be getting out of the canvas taking  a real shape. It’s an emotional drive that takes a shape , leaves the flat surface of the canvas through bubbles of colour which are like magma and shakes like earth  tremors.  Everything occurs with a striking harmony where Lizi’s artistic personality rules over every emotional drive and at the same time shows  how skilled she is at mastering the painting techniques. You can still see, however, reference to classical elements representing the tradition that she has never forgotten and also a state of mind characterized by calm, balance, constantly struggling against the more rebellious, irrational part of her soul. In her latest paintings the human figure is always present, even though in a latent dimension, almost to emphasize the uncertainty of the human presence in the world and how inaccessibile and unrecognizable individuals are to one another in this century. The “indefinite” representation of the human figure is analytically consistent with the freudian principle of the ambivalence between showing and dissimulating the reality. The pictorial evolution Li Zi is living, which is also occurring because of a technical  change characterized by an increased use of different materials aiming at the cancellation of the image and of invisibility, can be understood only if we accept the idea of the loss the visible element. In the artistic output between 2013 and 2016, we can see a way of painting that reaches high levels of stratification, with an overall effect magmatic colours , with  reflections of the light falling like a shower on the surface of the canvas. These effects are achieved by means of a highly technical and at the same time emotional element which is obtained  thanks to the balance of white and black colours. She thus provides a gradual scale of colours and nuances leading to the grey-green colours that remind of landscapes with woods in the early hours of the morning, wrapped up in the fog and water vapor. These paintings mark an evolution also in the way Li Zi communicates her artistic message to people. She belongs to a new generation of artists who are paving a new road to representation  for future generations. It’s a generation that is more aware of the need to combine the past, and therefore painting on canvas, with other  techniques typical of a merely conceptual approach. I know that one artistic technique cannot be totalizing and exclude the others, and , instead, there should be a contamination and a mingling . This can be achieved thanks to artists who have studied and “ absorbed” history and , in a sensible way,  have managed to turn and shape their knowledge into a new language that encompasses on the one hand the visual pleasure of the pictorial technique and the harmony of shapes, and ,on the other, the use of technological devices, such as neon lights  or videos enhancing the thinking capabilities of the onlooker. Lize, aware of her potential, is able to reach this balance . Her painting is a challenge to the eternal separation, often futile and banal, between the figurative and the conceptual world. This will allow to create a new audience of art lovers and Lizi will supply  the new generation with new methods of reading and interpreting works of art. Even though, she is a young  Li Zi belongs to a  group of “visionary” artists like Kiefer, who nowadays is internationally considered one of the most important painters. In my previous critical essay I had already emphasized the oniric, dream-like quality of her paintings. Today this is even  more evident as the scenes she creates , by using  grey, black and green colours, tend to highlight a sort of “game”, an ambivalence between death and dreams, typical of the oniric world. If Kiefer’s way of painting has been defined  symbolist painting, I would define Li Zi’s way of painting a symbolist and oniric one. Kiefer’s paintings tend to exorcise the Nazi past of his country, the sense of guilt and the impact that that historical event has had on the new generation. All this has affected his way of painting, because he seems to be eager to expiate it through his work. In Lizy’s paintings , instead, her personal and private experience prevails, and  is exorcised through elements , such as frames, neon lights and dark veils. It is mainly an inner, interior experience, which involves the unconscious and is then set free and given a shape on the canvas , similar to the lava of a volcano. Li Zi’s “journey” is a journey within herself, her inner life, and the geometrical elements, like lines, triangles, cut the surface and trace the “road” of her inner experience of life. In Kiefer’s artistic work, the lines and the perspective cut the surface of the canvas in order to have a symbolic impact on the past, an upsetting memory which cannot be forgotten. Li Zi’s paintings, instead, can bring about a sort of salvation effect, with their magic, fantastic and mysterious aura. The parallel and comparison that I have made with the genius of contemporary painting wants to highlight the way Li Zi has been able to elaborate her own artistic identity, centred around herself and her own experience, even though she looks up to that artistic master. Li Zi’s paintings remind of Lovecraft, one of the most important writers and poets of the 20th century, who is widely considered representative of oniric symbolism. According to him, there is not a clear borderline between the physical world and the oniric one. You have to plunge into  the onoric world in order to leave behind sensorial perceptions. We have to deal with the monsters that haunt us in order to bring about a rebirth. For Lovecraft they are the mountain and the key, for Li Zi the forest and all the objects which are included in the painting, like the splinter of the neon light, which reminds of the key: the key to our lives.