Infinities between Ink and Gold: Recent Works of Li Huayi: Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Hong Kong

25 November - 12 December 2021

Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery presents Infinities Between Ink and Gold – Recent Works of Li Huayi. The exhibition will showcase 12 pieces of Li's recent works from 2018-2021, showing his mastery in integrating gold foil with sophisticated ink and brushstrokes on silk. The result is both impactful and unpredictable. Li also expands his oeuvre with silver foil, which produces a unique moonshine-reminiscing luminescence, echoing the unique poetic romance in the culture of traditional Chinese literati. The exhibition takes place at the F Hall Studio in Tai Kwun, Central, Hong Kong from 25 November to 12 December, 2021.


Born in Shanghai in 1948, Li Huayi is one of the leading Chinese contemporary ink painters. At six years old, he started learning Shanghai School Chinese painting from Wang Jimei who was a renowned painter in Shanghai. At sixteen years old, he studied Western art under Zhang Chongren. He moved to San Francisco in 1982 and graduated from the San Francisco Academy of Art with a Master's degree two years later.


In the early 90s, with inspiration from the Northern Song dynasty masters like Li Cheng (919–967), Fan Kuan (ca.950-1032) and Guo Xi (ca.1020-1090), Li Huayi has established his unique style: monumental landscapes on paper. His works manifest the modernity mutation of the great tradition of Chinese painting through the lens of selected Western contemporary approaches.


In 2005, after developing 'illusive landscapes' on paper for nearly a decade, Li started the idea of painting with ink on gold-foiled screens. Having discovered the aesthetic limitations of scaling Chinese ink paintings, Li explored the way to expand the sense of space in his works, with the ambition to make large-scale Chinese paintings both interesting and vibrant. Li tried two directions: applications of ink paintings in multiple screen installations and painting on antique Japanese gold-foiled screens, and completed his first ink on gold foiled screen in 2008. Since then, Li's art journey evolved into two parallel tracks: the original ink on paper format and the new direction involving foiled materials. Up to 2018, in one decade, he completed 4 works on golden paper and 26 works of gold foiled screens.


In 2018, Li challenged himself in expanding the boundaries of his foiled series. As the gold-foiled surface does not absorb ink effectively, the painting process would require meticulous strokes one by one and limits application of the free painting styles. Thus, instead of painting on foiled background, he first outlines the composition on handmade silk produced by a specialist in Kyoto and afterwards laid gold foils on the tree body, resulting in a charm not seen in foiled screen works. In this new format, the luminosity of the painting comes from the tree in it rather than from its background, making the tree a prominent and iconic feature. In some works, the artist further increases the complexity of his pictorial expressions by blending the foiled area with fine sand to deliver various texture as the artist prefers.


While this new method of integrating gold foil with ink releases Li from the constraints of painting on antique gold foiled screen, allowing him free application of more abstract styles, these latest works nevertheless preserve the core elements of his foiled series. They continue to present an illusive world infused with light, limitless space and endless passage of time, in such a magical way to make it look more real than ever. The dramatic compositions of Li remind us of his roots in deconstructivism, however, his ability in a positive synthesis of Modernist values goes beyond post-modernism, opening an entirely new direction for Chinese ink painting.


Built upon contemporary artistic concept and approaches, Li's works nevertheless remain a carrier of the core spirit of traditional Chinese literati painting. They do not represent the external appearance of the physical world but rather express the painter's temperament, comprising his knowledge, belief and taste in culture, reflecting his accomplishments in learning and personal qualities cultivation. The pine trees in the foil series are an apt example; their postures are full of elegance and nobility, their setting – a bottomless gold void – reads immortality. Each work unfolds a corner of the ideal world perceived by Li Huayi, where man is in constant pursuit of learning, self-discipline, righteous thinking and humanity, and is taking a humble attitude towards nature, under the belief that man and nature can be in harmonies co-existence. It is a fairyland at the core of Chinese culture, founded upon the cross-influences of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.