Painted in Li Jin’s masterful watery strokes and rich, vivid colours, 牛年大吉 (Happy Year of the Ox) depicts a particularly surreal scene, showing the artist’s penchant for strange, elusive narratives. The central subject of the piece is a fierce ox, painted in bold, dark black strokes, possessing a human body and clad in a formal suit. The figure hovers above other hybrid creatures, appearing like anxious, submissive servants below him. Surrounding the ox are pale fish, while above its head is a light, ethereal portrait of a man covered in flora, vaguely resembling the artist himself, who often appears in his own work.

As the title and the subject directly allude to the year 2021, the Year of the Ox, the piece captures the dizzying duality felt across the world today: enduring and recovering from a global pandemic, many people are forced to work exponentially harder and more fiercely normal. Yet, simultaneous to this harsh reality is a world turning to fantasy, dreaming of a lush, idyllic future and any glimpse of paradise.