LI JIN
(b. 1958, TIANJIN)

Li Jin is one of China’s most exciting and unorthodox painters. A member of the so-called New Literati group, the Chinese ink painter focuses his figurative works on objects and scenes from the mundane. Indeed, he transforms the banal chores of everyday life into fragmented illusions of a fantastical world. Contrary to the usual bombardment of commercially ideal bodies, Li Jin exposes and celebrates the imperfections of the human form. Indeed, his uniquely playful style reveals itself through his charming depiction of tummy fat and people appearing embarrassed when using the restroom. Furthermore, he indulges in grand lifestyles filled with food and wine. For example, some of his paintings reveal the carnal desires of intoxicated people as they surround a banquet table and ravish not only heaps of meat but also voluptuous naked women and men. 

It was in the 1990s when Li Jin developed his witty sense of visual humour. Although it might seem that he focuses merely on extravagant luxuries, most or all of his works always possessed spiritual undercurrents. Before embarking on his artistic journey, Li Jin travelled to Tibet in pursuit of how to live a truthful life and access humanity’s natural connection to nature. There, he began to ruminate deeply on the Tibetan culture and the transience of human existence. Diverging from the spiritual environment in Tibet, the liberalisation of China shifted the daily reality of people and inspired Li Jin to represent the boisterous experiences at home. Perhaps it is the stark contrast of lifestyles in Tibet and China that fuelled his inclination for exaggeration. 

Li Jin graduated in 1983 from the Chinese Painting Department of the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, where he currently serves as Associate Professor. He was awarded Annual Ink Artist at the 2012 Award of Art China. In 2014, he was selected Artist of the Year by the authoritative publication L’OFFICIEL Art. Li Jin has mounted solo exhibitions in China and Australia, Germany, and the United States, among other countries. His works are in the collections of major institutions such as the National Art Museum of China; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Seattle Art Museum; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

WORKS BY THIS ARTIST

颂 (Ode)
2019
Ink on Paper, 65 x 137 cm

Known for seamlessly merging traditional Chinese brush painting with banal contemporary scenes and activities, Li Jin paints yet another bold composition filled with intriguing details and juxtapositions, showcasing his distinct, self-reflexive satire. 

In this work, Li Jin’s loose, watery strokes capture a crowded scene with a naked woman at the center, looking above her with a dazed, helpless expression. To her right, another nude man contrasts the woman’s hollow gaze, as he scrunches his face in anguish or ecstasy. To her left, a man solemnly looks down, as if in humiliation before the curious and confused people around them, witnessing this strange scene. Here, Li Jin intentionally shocks and disorients us—placing us in the painting together with the mystified bystanders, and forcing us to probe this rather jarring, uncomfortable narrative. 

Yet, the artist himself is not merely the creator of the story, hidden in the background: he is an active participator, a central character. He is the nude man in ecstasy or agony beside the woman, imploring us to look at him. While it is not unusual for the artist to insert himself in his pieces, Li Jin places himself in a particularly exposed and vulnerable position in this work—boldly revealing a powerful emotion that one would typically keep private or hidden from the world.

海滩 (The Beach)
2019
Ink on Paper, 23.5 x 33 cm

While Li Jin has established his own unique practice through marrying his skill and mastery in traditional Chinese ink painting with depictions of banal, explicit moments in contemporary everyday life, this particular piece depicting a beach scene radiates a childlike quality, deliberately breaking free from tradition and technique. 

Lying naked on a shore, a man, who appears as Li Jin himself, is caressed by a woman in a cheeky hat with animal ears. Unafraid to tackle themes of pleasure and mortality in his work, Li Jin aims to reveal the unspoken tension between the two: the beauty, but also the tragedy, of the ephemeral qualities in both ecstasy and life. While such drama and sensuality are prevalent in European baroque art, it is rare to find this distinct rawness in Chinese art, whether in literati paintings or the naturalistic paintings of the Tang and Song dynasties. 

In breaking stylistic rules and depicting the taboo in his subjects, Li Jin challenges us to confront layers of invisible restraints and boundaries, both in contemporary art and life.

泳 (Swimming)
2019
Ink on Paper, 23.5 x 33 cm

While Li Jin has established his own unique practice through marrying his skill and mastery in traditional Chinese ink painting with depictions of banal, explicit moments in contemporary everyday life, this particular piece depicting a beach scene radiates a childlike quality, deliberately breaking free from tradition and technique. 

Lying naked on a shore, a man, who appears as Li Jin himself, is caressed by a woman in a cheeky hat with animal ears. Unafraid to tackle themes of pleasure and mortality in his work, Li Jin aims to reveal the unspoken tension between the two: the beauty, but also the tragedy, of the ephemeral qualities in both ecstasy and life. While such drama and sensuality are prevalent in European baroque art, it is rare to find this distinct rawness in Chinese art, whether in literati paintings or the naturalistic paintings of the Tang and Song dynasties. 

In breaking stylistic rules and depicting the taboo in his subjects, Li Jin challenges us to confront layers of invisible restraints and boundaries, both in contemporary art and life.