Experiencing the State of Extremity|Liu Ke Solo Exhibition “Ocean by My Left”

January 18, 2023 Hong Kong

Liu Ke

Whitestone Gallery H Queen's is presenting Ocean by My Left, a solo exhibition by Chinese artist Liu Ke. The show will be open until February 11, 2023. Within the limited space of the canvas, Liu Ke's colored works observe the relationship created by precise vertical lines and strong brush strokes. Liu stated regarding the exhibition, "In the historical context, the term 'left' has always represented a radical, variable, unpredictable, and mobile state, which resembles the deep and vast 'ocean.'" We interviewed the artist about the exhibition's theme and his works.

The exhibition view

ーPlease tell us about the theme of the exhibition "Ocean by My Left".

Liu: In the historical context, the "left side" symbolizes radical and adventure. It is an orientation. I picked the left side because many of my works are characterized by vertical blocks or lines, which appear to segment the totality of the pictures. They resonate with the vertical line adopted in Barnett Newman's Zip paintings. It is split but at the same time stitched together. It is also mobile. I focused on the left side, which points to the ocean. The ocean is deep and vast, with unknowns and infinite possibilities. It is dangerous, but it is also a surging spiritual spring. On the other side are cliffs and rocks, which are also the rational and solid sides, a subjective construction. Such division achieves a similar effect of opposition and fusion. My creative process is to experience the spiritual extremity at the cliff of the border.

The exhibition view

ーCould you tell us about one of the key images, The Woman Coming Down the Stairs series? It was mentioned in the press release that the series was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 (1912). How exactly did this piece influence your work?

Liu: Duchamp's Nude Descending the Staircase No. 2 is one of his creations during the Cubist Movement. He was not satisfied with the Cubist principle of "Consistent foreground and background, merging abstraction and figuration" and the structural movement which reorientates the frontal structural construction to the lateral structural movement. When he participated in the Cubist Exhibition, he was asked to modify this work as it was criticized for being too comparable to Italian Futurism. Duchamp insisted on not amending the painting and never participated in this exhibition later on. He believed that Cubism had become limited and constricted.

My creation is a response to Duchamp's composition and a tribute to the independence of his creative notion. I transformed Duchamp's delineation of the motion of descending the staircase into the correlation of lines and materials, revealing a gap between the definite and completeness, allowing it to turn into the driving force for rediscovery and a new beginning. Under the influence of color and technique, the lines produce an illusion of dynamics. It intertwines with the segment that symbolizes the staircase, forming a dialogue between "stillness" and "flow."

From the exhibition view, Liu Ke《The woman coming down the stairs No.3》2019, 120cm×100cm, Mixed media on canvas

ーIn recent years, you have begun to install windows in your paintings. What is the intention behind this?

Liu: These windows are the most common practical screens and barely have aesthetic considerations. These screens concretize disconnection between objects while retaining the airflow, which underlines audience participation in the theatrical sense. The work and the audience are individual subjects: the audience gazes inward through the "disconnection," or "the self" looks outwards through the window. The two navigations embody a medium of space for the concept to take place. With this window that allows separation and communication, a passage is fabricated, making the work more "objective."

From the exhibition view,《Object Liberty - Double》2019 (work facing front) incorporates a window with a screen door.

ーWhat inspired you to become an artist?

Liu: There is no specific reason behind "becoming an artist." It felt monotonous when I nearly went into another industry. There should be many sources for "artistic inspiration." My earliest memory was of the longing for a way of life. I remember when I was in primary school, and through the balcony of my classroom, I saw a painter with long hair and an army green cap sketching by the river. Several students (secondary vocational school students) were watching quietly behind him. That was very cool, and I wanted to be like him.

From the exhibition view, Liu Ke《Everyday》2021, 90cm×150cm, Installation painting, mixed media

ー You are an artist, a professor, the Vice Dean of the School of Painting, the executive director of the Boxes Art Museum, and the founder of Sabaki Space in Guangzhou. Why does "art" attract you?

Liu: Artist is my primary identity. My educational work and the exhibition spaces are extensions of my artistic work. For instance, as a professor, my typical working style is to share my studies and practice with students and colleagues and take in what others have shared. An environment for making art with a good atmosphere is formed in the process. The artists in this environment are individuals who are walking their own paths. Their unbound mingling naturally became my observation and experimentation.

Boxes Art Museum and Sabaki Space are the double results of my work in education and art. Sabaki Space and Boxes Art Museum were founded because I saw the lack of exhibition space and opportunities in society for artists to grow, especially young students. Once I started to create a place based on my ideas on the needs of artists, many projects began to surge, such as the selection of exhibition content, space design, graphic design, display design, etc. During the process, the artists and curators I worked with became working partners and friends, and they inspired me a lot.

Partial close-up of work from Liu Ke's 《The universe in the cave No.1》2022

ーYour works have many fascinating titles. How do you decide on the themes and motifs for your works?

Liu: I usually name my work after it is completed or after some time. I try to keep the title from interfering with the work itself. The title is a note of clues to the work. Sometimes, when I can't come up with a good title, I will use a simple title and add a series number. But for some artworks that have incorporated the elements of other artists, I will directly show them in the title, including the theme of this exhibition. It is an elaboration on a work.

The exhibition view

ーDo you have any rules or routines when creating?

Liu: The making process usually depends on the characteristics of the selected materials to achieve the layers. Then, the works are directly hung on the wall. And there would be several works in progress at the same time. When I find it difficult to continue, I will leave the works alone, sometimes for a year or two, until I come back to them. They are rarely done within a month without adjustments.

The work in progress is displayed in the studio.

ーWhat would you like to achieve in the future?

Liu: In painting, I plan to experiment more with the color yellow, which I seldom use. Other than that, I will continue building my studio in Hunan.

The exhibition view

Liu Ke creates his own language of abstract expressionism by exploring the dichotomy and the contextual relationship between the material and spiritual sense of the entities on the canvas. In the exhibition space, the "left side" of the deep, vast ocean and the "cliff," which is constructed with rationality and subjectivity, coalesced.

The exhibition will be open until February 11, 2023. Exhibited works are also available on view on our website.

View Exhibition Details »

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