Q: Nice to meet you, Mr. Li. I’ve learned that you’ve been devoted to landscape painting for almost four decades. What, I’m wondering, has kept you painting?
A: Well, the answer is passion. On most occasions, I may strike people as a rather dull person as I speak little. The truth is I like spending long hours figuring out what and how to paint. For me, painting itself is my passion. There’s a sentence I read somewhere which goes, “Be honest in life, but witty in art.” Well said. Perhaps the best way to preserve passion is to be innovative. Take mountains-and-waters painting for example. I have tried different ways to capture the beauty and essence of mountains and waters. Take line drawing. I’ve experimented with zhedaicun [literally, the folding belt method, featuring light ink strokes to show the shades and texture of rocks and mountains in traditional Chinese landscape painting] in which lines are straight and tough, as well as mellow and flowing lines that are natural and smooth. I also tried to combine dots, lines with areas in a piece called “A Multidimensional Mountain”, which was awarded the silver medal on the Second Landscape Painting Exhibition of Jiangsu Province. You see, I love experimenting with ink and wash. Although I cannot say that I love painting more than life, it is undoubtedly an indispensable part of my life.
雨在时时润 2018 纸本 33cm×139cm
Q: As an established claborate-style painter, while painting, are you trying to recall from your memory of the actual landscapes like mountains or waters, or depict something that has been treated with sublimation?
A: Trying to reproduce the actual landscapes, as I see it, is a deadly foe to a painter. We’ve already had cameras, which can do the job much better and faster. Take writing for example. Merely reading classics and quoting from them cannot make us great writes. It’s true that great writers must have read a lot, but not all who have read extensively can produce good work. Artistic creation, as I see it, is a complicated process that can be compared to the celebrated Zen paradox of viewing the mountains and waters. People’s perceptions of the truths deepen at different phases of enlightenment. Learning to paint is a similar process. It is kind of philosophy and Zen in that it is ineffable and can be best appreciated by those who have had similar experiences and revelations.
更有江湖万里心 18x60cm 2015 纸本
Q: Does this mean that you have instilled the spirit of Buddha or Zen into your works of art?
A: Well, yes, in a way. Buddhism teaches us that each individual is endowed with the seed to the ultimate enlightenment. You know, my wife is a devout Buddhist. She has had a huge impact on me. I’ve learned to view life and art from a somehow Buddhist perspective, which values inner serenity by preaching good. While painting, I’m also thinking about conveying positive messages like mellowness, peace, simplicity and beauty onto audiences.
山明翠微浅 25 X 50cm 2016 纸本
Q: How would you describe the artistic expression of your landscape paintings at this stage?
A: I like your expression of “at this stage”. Things are changing all the time. Nor would I stick to one particular form of expression, however well-established it may be. I have been seeking and exploring new possibilities in painting myself all the time as I see it as a major means for my self-expression. Currently, I prefer some solid elements. For example, mountains can take the form of colorful blocks that resemble jumping notes in music, while running spring water may seem still. I’m thinking of livening up the whole picture by highlighting the contrast of bigger color blocks in warm tones and small blocks in cool colors. Imagine we look up in astonishment and awe at the riotous clouds sweeping past swiftly on a breathtaking sunset. Each and every color block, however tiny it is, is breathing and dancing to the music of your heart. How delightful the experience must be! And my pleasures are even greater while composing such a piece of artwork.