Li Kunwu

Opening Reception: Saturday, May 27th, 2017, 17:00-20:00

Exhibition Dates: May 28th – July 9th, 2017

Far from the famous « ligne claire » and its precise outlines, Li Kunwu's drawing lines are free. They merge the characters in their environment, animate the elements between vigor and softness, balance raw lines with diluted ink stains.

Li Kunwu is a self-taught artist born in the Mao years. Cartoonist, writer, painter and caricaturist, he is the author of about thirty books in his native province of Yunnan and eight documentary comics in France. The artist has been invited to exhibit his recent work in ArtCN Gallery in a solo show –Storyboards--in which he reveals a moving portrait of China through the ages, between ultra-realistic testimony and sublimated vision. Using only ink on rice paper, the artist expresses himself with a traditional and classical tool, common to China of all ages... but with a modern gesture and an original vocabulary. The artist considers daily life: street scenes, landscapes, moments of life ... and draws his vision on paper. Drawing becomes a time capture.

Li Kunwu plays with oppositions and contrasts to breathe life and movement into men and nature, roofs and fields, and thus to anchor an atmosphere, which becomes an emotion, a feeling. In some pieces, the hyper-realism of the faces comes up against a blurred environment... In others, this precise gesture details the elements through palpitating lines to contrast them with the backgrounds or blurred details ... A duality that is sketched in a set of unusual perspectives, and generates a vibrant rendering. In almost all works, the ink stains seem to invade the medium to bring together fore and backgrounds and thus create a unique point of view.

Sometimes all the elements appear to dissolve into the movement of the ink stains, which are coming and going, as a permanent flow. This generates a languid feeling: the characters become one with their environment. They are depicted from the back, or made with their shadows. When their faces are visible, they are barely sketched, lost in their occupation, in their moment (The Main Street). These timeless scenes are finally those of everyday life, in which Li Kunwu stages a routine, a circularity without surprise. Here the artist places the viewer and himself into the heart of the scene: a familiar routine that prevents him from distinguishing what surrounds him. A habit in which each man mechanically loses himself. One of the artist's peculiarities is the multiplicity of angles of view, which acts as a real commitment in his design, thus giving to the viewer a new role in each work. The viewer belongs to the artist. He becomes one of his characters, involved in the scene he observes. Sometimes hidden in a field, sometimes overhanging a street, the artist also plays with scales, oscillating from macrocosm to microcosm, taking the spectator with him from a surreal reverie to an abrupt reality.

In some works the frontal plans push the viewer out of the scene and relegate him to an observer function. Through this point of view, the artist becomes a meticulous witness of the scene and attaches importance to every detail: The features are precise and sharp, the movements and expressions of the characters are seemingly decomposed to be better scrutinized (Waiting Hall). The frontal view in the landscape scenes makes it possible to pierce the canvas, to open it and reach a far, off-screen, testimony of the immensity of the landscapes (Fields).

This set of angles and scales, high and low angle shots, lines and stains, defines an atmosphere that can be heavy and melancholic as well as light and cheerful. The shifting shapes in a sharp design is combined with a variety of frames, and generates unique environments (Phoenix Tree). Drawings, photographs or sequence-shot? Lin Kunwu’s scenes are alive: energy circulates, wind waves in the trees, on the fields, tranquility of the waters vibrates, elements breathe ... The white and silent zones punctuate the image and link delicacy with rough gestures.

Assertive or secret, Li Kunwu is a witness of a daily routine of habits, rituals and tradition with which he portrays a timeless China. He manipulates the complexity of emotions - his own, ours, and theirs - between raw reality and poetic vision. His drawings are rhythmic as sheet music in which the elements take place in a joyful and dynamic, or silent and ethereal balance. Melodic gesture. The shadows and the fleeting contours, like emotions, add a feeling of fluidity, and embody elusive and passing time—an unlimited present time, that no longer exists. Li Kunwu tells his present times as stories, as sequences that belong to an emotional time. A time that takes the shape of a space: his China.


Caroline Boudehen

Independant Art Critic and Editor