- 展览时间：2021/06/19 — 2021/07/22
Silver-Plated Night Walkers
When I look at Li Jikai's recent works, I often think of the lines in the poem The Book of Songs: Little Star: "Three or five shimmering little stars were scattered in the east sky. The officials always left for work before dawn, devoted themselves to the government affairs all days and nights. People’s fates are different…" I was moved and also considered the possibility of using "little star" as the exhibition title. Naturally, Li Jikai did not paint the disgruntled officials running around in the starry night. In terms of language and psychological state, these words and phrases from "one of the earliest poetry collections in China" have little resemblance to Li Jikai's paintings. What we can associate with the painting is the desolated image of "the small stars in the east", the lonely night walker, and the feeling of being left behind by the world (or “abandoned by the world”).
Not all of Li Jikai's recent works depict "night scenes", although he does like to create scenes that seem to be shrouded in the darkness of night. His "small worlds" are composed of scenes that reveal the loneliness and desolation of being banished (or self-exile), including the lonely "children" and the "desolate and sluggish scenes" far away from human traces. They are like nightmarish worlds that appear only in the midnight when everything has fallen asleep. If the daytime that the Little Star is attached to is the everyday mundane world that people are familiar with, the "abnormal world" under Li Jikai's brush is full of nightmarish atmosphere and is obviously closer to the night of three or five scattered “little stars” and “different fates”. The "night walkers" of this world are more like the children who seem to be sleepwalking or awakened by nightmares. Their faces are like those of ordinary neighborhood children, but their demeanor is stunned, bewildered, dull, and miserable. They are standing still, sitting alone, waiting alone by the fire, sleeping in nightmares, or walking around with a bag full of burdens and the lost mind. All seem to imply the "eternal deep sorrow" that does not match their age and status.
But if "little star" is really used for the title, it might be a bit far-fetched. After all, there is a great difference, and no matter what the explanation is, it will be over interpreted. Until I read the lines from Li Jikai’s poem: "Silver-plated night walkers… get used to everything… A thousand years have passed…", the desolated and lonely state of mind and the vicissitudes of predestined fate that lasted over a thousand years, naturally remind people of the heartwarming similarities between the two expressions. Thus, the title of the exhibition is naturally finalized as "Silver-Plated Nightwalker ".
Li Jikai once recounted a dream: "I was walking alone on the plain in the darkness. A passerby appeared slowly on the desolate horizon… This passerby had a familiar face that I could recognize... a child-like face. We were both tired with unrecognizable appearance." In an interview he added: "The passerby you encountered is certainly not a child, but an adult. The face impressed you as a child’s face, like a childhood friend." You know that it’s an adult but you saw a child’s face, which in his opinion represents the “childhood friend” of the "nostalgia self". Actually, it is like the "children" he has repeatedly portrayed in recent years.
Perhaps it is because of his nature that early in his undergraduate years, in the midst of a rather complicated experimentation with art language, Li Jikai embodied his brushwork with a rosy, radiant, yet sticky and depressed teenage quality. By the year 2000, he began to "paint children" with certainty. A few years later, "painting children" became an important phenomenon in the rising "post-70s art". A group of young artists, often called the “new cartoon generation”, quickly became well known. As an important representative of this group, Li Jikai personally does not recognize the label of "new cartoon generation". He feels that he paints "children", just like the older and more well-known “children” artists at home and abroad. Perhaps it is because of this self-perception that he was able to continue with his "children" paintings, when this group was later subjected to the constant interrogation about age and artistic interest.
Of course, Li Jikai's "children" are not unchanged. In an article in 2015, I categorized his creation trajectory of “painting children" into three phases. From 2000 to 2004, it was the definitive stage. After a few years of derivation, the little monsters with horns and the strange children vomiting among the flowers under his brush were finally refined into children with short hair and round faces. “Children” in the "game mask" of small rebellion, misanthropy, and harm, were in a self-imposed seclusion. From 2004 to 2008, the “shallow game world” of "children" was unfolded naturally. It had the boredom and shock of waking up from a dream, the myth of life and death, and more than that was the loneliness and confusion of the heart... The childish mood and naive appearance depicted a “small world” of “self-seclusion” which moved people’s heart. The years from 2009 to 2015 marked the hesitating and struggling period of “children”. On the one hand, the often oversized hands, feet, and bodies of "children" seemed to suggest a kind of "youthful embarrassment" of deformed growth. On the other hand, the behavior of "children" had an increasingly realistic implications: backpacking, lighting campfires, collecting potatoes, standing in urban ruins, meditating in lonely boats… The adult’s social experience gradually replaced the claustrophobic "teenage sentiments”. Such a simple, mechanical and linear analysis obviously cannot fully analyze Li Jikai's intricate artistic creations over the past decade or so, but rather it intended to reveal an inner evolutionary trend that had received less attention.
Following this perspective, the period from 2016 to the present can perhaps be called Li Jikai's "definitive period", in which the awkward and deformed "growth" of the previous stage has come to a halt and has been reshaped, as if the "child" under his brush could not be transformed into a real adult after all the hard work. It is just like what he sees in his dream. Even though he knows it is an adult, he still sees the face of a "child". With this "freeze frame", Li Jikai's characters, scenes, and linguistic interests all undergo an imperceptible but profound change.
Since he can't stand adult faces, he makes "children" carry more complex and profound spiritual experiences, so those children sowing seeds, carrying backpacks, sitting by the campfire, meditating by the tent, walking in the wilderness… look and act more profoundly as a spiritual illusion that the era can’t avoid. Since the "small world" as an artwork could not finally be transformed into a large landscape of the adult’s world, we should focus on hammering the "small world" with a deep poetic implication of bleakness and desolation. So, those "small worlds" which are far away from men’s traces, desolate and sluggish, seem to emerge in the dead night. We can feel more and more clearly the strange, magnificent, timeless and deep poetic meaning of those great "dark worlds" in history.
In terms of artistic language, his media in the past few years include acrylic on canvas, sketching and ceramic tiles, etc. Sketch and ceramic tile are mostly based on random sketching with slight rendering, while the style of acrylic on canvas is very diverse: some are almost in classical expressionist style. Some are close to semi-abstract graffiti style, and others are sketching-based writing with slight rendering… In all the formal languages, one can feel the interplay of spasms, twists and turns, elegance, easiness, bleakness and depression, gloom, brilliance and exuberance. This unique linguistic quality reveals a spiritual experience that is more genuine than the images and expressions of characters and spatial imagery: the bearing, questioning and struggle when one faces the unshakeable "truth" of fate…
Li Jikai considers his own era to be a "small time". The so-called "attributes of the times" and other grand issues have always been a matter of opinion and are hard to determine. The social environment of China is extremely complex. People in different positions and different life circles will have very different feelings about the times. Over the past years, I have heard a variety of different expressions of “a certain era”. But when I think of the rise of the "cartoon generation" about a decade ago, the older and more internationally known artists who paint "children”, the art world’s interest in the “small fresh style”, I can further associate with the influential movie of the same name a few years ago, the “online celebrities” and the eye-popping “traffic” that have sprung up over the years, and the recent popular internet words such as “involution” and “laid-back”. The term of “small time” may arouse wilder social consensus.
In fact, for ordinary people’s life, compared with the big time when a country is in a state of emergency, the living is in danger and many heroes come forth, the small time, which people often curse angrily and enjoy life to their content, might be a better time. In such an era, if someone, in the dead of night or when he or she is relaxed and alone, can make a spiritual inquiry or look into the heart, one will surely recognize Li Jikai's "silver-plated night walkers" who repeat "meaningless" acts, or the night walkers who are adults with a growing mentality, yet never lose their "child" faces. They are the most impressive features of this "small time”.
- 开幕时间：2021/06/19 15:00
- 展览时间：2021/06/19 — 2021/07/22