Liu Lifen’s dream and living world
—- Dialogue between Luo Fei and Liu Lifen
by Luo Fei
Time: Feb 11, 2015
Venue: TAI PROJECT Gallery, North Jindingshan Rd. Kunming
I, Self-whisper: Liu Lifen as an artist
1, Studying and Artistic growth
Luo Fei: Did you major in traditional Chinese ink painting in your university period?
Liu Lifen: Yes. I was study all subjects related to traditional Chinese ink painting, however, I don’t know how to paint traditional Chinese painting.
Luo Fei: Your early painting works are obviously with Yunnan strong coloring technique and style, but you have totally broken away from it in recent years.
Liu Lifen: Yes.
Luo Fei: Most figures in your early works have a pointed face and a long neck.
Liu Lifen: It was influenced by Modigliani. I was crazy about his painting when I was in the university and influenced quite a lot by his works in my graduation works. However, these graduation works have gone away from me. They are the first pot of gold in my life.
Luo Fei: I have noticed that in your painting works from 2013, there are birds, crane and plant. And those birds all have up-looking eyes. I know in traditional Chinese ink painting, this kind of bird can also be found from Badashanren’s work. And that up-looking bird eyes stand for highly critical of society. Compared with it, yours are more aloof and proud, and look like sleepy. Were you thinking about Badashanren when you painted your works?
Liu Lifen: At that time I studied the ravens in Badashanren’s work. The raven’s black color was so beautiful in my eyes. They looked like so concentrated and even holy. I also collected some stories about raven through Google.
2, Image, color and material
Luo Fei: You repeatedly use the image of crane in your paint, how does it come?
Liu Lifen: Six years ago, a Swedish lady told me: pretty goose quill is used for writing, instead of being enjoyed. So I introspect and asked myself, and painted several portraits of falling feather. I collaborated with Shi Zhijie on “the Morning Mist” fashion show at that time, I imaged there should be mist above the wild land and there should be cranes. Then I started conversation with cranes, big or small, on my paper, or on the clothes.
Luo Fei: I notice the image of snake on your paint of “Cryptic Fairy”.
Liu Lifen: Sometimes a drop of improper color happened to drop down on the paper carelessly or that part of painting was not satisfied, I added something on it and went along with its potential, like when I taught kids how to draw, I encouraged them not to erase, but make the best out of the mistake. This is why the image of snake appeared in my paint.
Luo Fei: And you recently got the image of butterfly in your paint.
Liu Lifen: I’m quite interested in butterfly and other insect specimen. Last summer when I was in Stockholm I was bit by mosquito, and consequence of mosquito poison was unbelievable–my eye got terribly swollen and I couldn’t go out for a couple of day. Butterfly’s wings always bring a fantastic mystique. I once received a good-night greeting from a sister: may fairy fly over your bird’s twitter and fragrant dream. What beautiful words, only used by those with inner graceful elegance.
Luo Fei: This recent group of paints all has strong color.
Liu Lifen: The colored ones were all painted during 2012-2013 when I was in Zurich. I adopted local large size paper and liquid acrylic. I got a part-time job in the biggest florist shop of that city, and as exchanging, there was always a lot of beautiful flowers and nice plant covered a table in my studio, they were blossomed and colorful, full of vigour, seemed like dueled against outdoors never-ending whirling snow. I felt I was in hibernation during that time, wanted do nothing but painting. Sometimes I was just watching opium poppy flower blossoming in front of my eyes in that huge hollow studio. It was just happened in an instant and so exciting. I recorded those amazing colors with mineral pigment and special liquid acrylic which I could find in local shops. They are all perfect colors and totally different from my early works with black ink as grounding color.
Luo Fei: Are your paints related to your experience of living in Sweden?
Liu Lifen: Yes, very much. The nature or natural environment always strongly inspired me. Month by month, I continuously photographed the ocean water, my body and the sunshine, and relations between them in the morning, facing the sea and drawing lines of sea’s waving. Every morning I walked one hour to my studio, and I used to watch and seek any tiny changes of the plant in the garden, noticed how a falling leave was so impressive, what sort of flower blossomed in spring…… I was fond of those detailed changes in natural environment and they always released me in a sudden. When I was wandering in dark night, I found those withered leaves hang on the dried branches were dazzling in the streetlight. There were really snow flake falling down in streetlight during those snowing days. Everything was just amazing.
Luo Fei: I have ever noticed one of your paint hang on the inside wall of a church in Malmo.
Liu Lifen: Yes. That is about my memory and experience of first visiting to Sweden. I was so grateful to the school which offered me invitation and gave them as a gift. It was that school that provided me the opportunity of going abroad when I was still in the university. I know the term of “living water” in the Bible, and often wondered how I can illustrate this “living water” with my paint. Then I created this group of paint including 5 pieces about wild land with blue-green water source for them. And they can decide how to match and combine on their own. And later Janeric Johanson suggested the church to hang them in a cross shape every summer.
Luo Fei: A lot of your paints are all paper-based.
Liu Lifen: I created my painting periodically. I only paint when I have a complete period. When I make a creation in different place, I have to consider what I can do, and what I can bring home when time is up. I created some oil-painting as well but I didn’t enjoy them very much because they looked stiff and you have to modify continuously. But painting on paper is different. It is what it looked like from the beginning since you can’t modify it afterward, especially for those silk based painting I made lately. The silk is transparent and every single stroke is clearly visible. I also made a pile of oil, acrylic on canvas.
There was a period of time I made paper in bathtub. I mixed the hairs collected from strangers with paper pulp and could make only two pieces per day. I kept making that sort of paper for a few months and then illustrated some love affairs relation adopted from novels on these paper based on the interesting texture of the paper. In one summer, I worked with Swiss artist Nathalie Bissig on plenty of videos producing. We interchanged our roles in the video scenarios, between man and woman, with an amazing feeling of androgynus. Sometimes we even thought man needs more care than woman does. We worked together again in Switzerland when I was there, but both of us were depressed because of transformed region. At that time, a friend of us gave us a big roll of paper, so we freely drew some paints about relationship between male and female, or something about sex, like graffiti, then we laughed and laughed……
A lot of paper-based paints are actually not finished yet, because the time for these paintings was not enough. Some of them only have a beginning. On the contrary, some small size paintings are complete because they are easy to bring and then to be added or complemented. There are also some paints without a certain frame or definite figures. But they truly recorded my confusion and lost. Some of them are imaginary scenes. When I was alone I had a strong premonition that another one or two person was around me. I felt like someone was watched me silently, it was weird.
3, Two dreams
Luo Fei: I can feel loneness, struggle and a sense of alienation from your painting works. Are you trying to transform the image of plant or animal to yourself?
Liu Lifen: For me, paint is just a diary, a graphic diary, a means I whisper to myself. So the date of paint is valuable. I’m still willing to go back to my inner world. I’m not interested in any present news but it doesn’t mean I shield myself. I’d like to preserve my heart.
Luo Fei: Your paints directly reflect your own experience and your inner world.
Liu Lifen: Each of my early paints reflects my inner prototype, a story, including my sense of distance from others, my status of self-enclosed, and my dreams. When I was a kid, I repeatedly had a same dream: in the broad-bean field, there was a little boy kept smiling to me with a straw on his ear, or held in his mouth. Another dream is weird too: I walked along the wall-foot of my home, a snake dropped down in front of me from nowhere, and escaped away immediately. These two dreams kept coming to me again and again, until when I was 18 or 19 years old. My memory about childhood is empty–I don’t know why. Perhaps I was not very healthy when I was young, or because of some other unknown reason.
Luo Fei: Can it be understood as a sort of fear in your blood?
Liu Lifen: I don’t know. The fear indeed exists more or less. But I enjoy very much the loneness when I grow up. I can happily have fun with myself, and then share with someone else if I want to. However I’m still not very clear whether this happiness is a sort of loneness or a fear.
Luo Fei: You mentioned you feel there is someone watching you all the time. Can I understand your painting as a means by which you keep your eyes on yourself all the time?
Liu Lifen: Yes, probably. I remember there is a sentence: the paint touched me so much, like a miracle, even though this touching only last for one second. Like for a patient, only patient knows where his /her pain spot is.
Luo Fei: As an artist, do you think your art creation contributed a positive or negative reinforcement to your inner loneness, or fear?
Liu Lifen: There was a period I tried to record this inner mood, those portraits about feather falling off, for example, and they really healed, ha-ha… I always have a job besides painting, and the job usually brings me more fear. Fortunately, I’m capable of self helping. I don’t like the feel of falling down into abyss, anyway. I don’t have any specific creation motivation right now, at least, not as strong as before.
4, Covenant with rooftop
Luo Fei: Do you have any idea or expectation about your coming solo exhibition?
Liu Lifen: Hard to say. As I said in the beginning, when I curated or planned exhibition for others, I was always very clear about it. But to my own, I lost it or mess it up. I haven’t had very specific or clear plan for my painting work. I always follow my feels of painting, and just illustrate these feels.
Luo Fei: You call the relocation of your studio during past years as the covenant with rooftop because every new roof lasted shortly. The artists always have to move, to seek an appropriate place for their studio, like a group of modern nomad. More specifically, the artists keep seeking a person or an object that is will to make a covenant with them. Therefore I understand the “Covenant with rooftop” is a covenant with open sky based on your ideal, is a seeking of some relation during your continuous floating, or an anticipation of some eternal relation. Whom or what do you think you make a covenant with? And what kind of covenant is it?
Liu Lifen: Unexpectedly, my studios during past 10 years were all located on the roof floor or single-storey house. Without exception, they were all with sufficient sunshine. So, maybe I had a covenant with sunshine. Broadness and openness of the roof made me feel quite romantic, and quite solid.
Luo Fei: Do you think your painting is kind?
Liu Lifen: Depends on how you interpret them. Sometimes I thought the color was too beautiful and these beautiful colors weaken the motivation of the painting. Sometimes I stubbornly thought my paint was evil. I keep these I’m fond of and cut those I’m not as paper-cut or used for writing a letter. I stubbornly love some items only because they are pretty or because they are monumental. I believe each of them are worth to exist and valuable.