Cool Hunter Predictions: Li Li - Art Collector

Issue 47, January - March 2009

This profile appeared in the "Cool Hunter Predictions" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2009"

A girl with an orange ponytail and a flamethrower leaps forward with sadistic glee to burn away a rainbow in What Is Natural? No.1. An acrylic on canvas, its colours are lozenge bright; the style cartoon-like and graphically flat. In What Is Natural? No.2, this same pony-tailed girl sits like a giant in a toy forest, devouring trees along with the tiny versions of herself that cling to them like drugged pandas, her appearance demure but for eyes stoned with ecstasy as she takes another giant bite.

Elsewhere the paintings of the Chinese artist Li Li become even more violent as female characters shear off an arm and mutilate themselves, or fire off a weapon with surprisingly disgusting results in Incontinent Machine Gun. Cuddly animals like rabbits, cats and pandas also appear in acts of terror, much of it self-inflicted and seemingly pleasurable.

At times this glee subsides and the mood becomes suspended and altogether cooler as her palette settles into greys and muted pastels – but for tiny spills of blood red that wound a work like Disposable Person with colour as multiples of Li Li’s heroine are hurled to the ground from a tin can of apartment-block height.

“I draw cartoon pictures for I grew up watching them.” That’s Li Li’s clipped answer to what drives her aesthetic vision in Games of the Imagination, a 2007 essay by the critic Han Ji-yun. The dualities of comic style with menace and a deeply pressing loneliness are less easy to sum up. Li Li simply calls herself “a typical Gemini”.

At age 27, she has been associated with a group referred to as the Cartoon Generation. South Park flavours of absurdity, violence, and crudeness are on display in her work, but the brightly morbid humour lands far more personally.

Evan Hughes at Evan Hughes Gallery in Sydney regards Li Li as a vital figure “in what could be called a second cultural revolution in China” as a new generation obsessed with computer games, the internet and popular influences deals with issues of national identity. “Young people have this fascination with new forms of media and access to the world like no generation before them, but Li Li uses that influence to show quite important games are being played around them with the environment and people’s lives.”

Hughes talks of how she signals “the beginnings of an environmental awareness in China,” as well as Li Li’s place as “one of the first female artists to talk about gender politics and women’s issues, but in a humorous way that is appealing and quite confronting at the same time.”

Together with his father Ray Hughes, Evan Hughes will showcase Li Li’s paintings as part of a 2009 group show in Sydney focused around the scene that has evolved out of the Sichuan Academy of Arts in Chongqing. It’s a Chinese city that has a fierce warrior tradition that dates back to the kingdom of Ba, famous for its curved swords. Take another look at the shape of that girl’s mouth.

Mark Mordue

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