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Liu Dan

Chinese Painter

Liu Dan Photo

Born: 1953 - Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

"Creation is not merely an interesting idea. It is soul."

Summary of Liu Dan

Viewing a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Liu Dan might appear more like an international group show than the work of a single artist, as he effortlessly manoeuvres between numerous artistic styles and genres. Born in China, it was during the Cultural Revolution that the artist was first exposed to the work of Western artists in photographs taken by his friend of confiscated books. Intrigued by the images, Liu fastidiously copied the reproductions of Renaissance era drawings, even before Liu received any formal training in traditional Chinese painting techniques. This dichotomy of influences would take the artist in many different directions, from a modernist twist on traditional Chinese monochromatic landscape painting to a nearly photorealistic style of watercolor paintings of common, everyday objects. Driving this exploration, Liu was searching for a new discourse that could be both individual and unique, incorporating both the Eastern and Western artistic legacies he admired. Yet despite the variety of artistic styles, Liu's artistic and philosophical goals remained consistent, as he sought to surpass superficial issues of style and instead capture the true essence of his subject.

Key Ideas

Liu Dan's painting style is not readily confined to any pre-existing category. Instead, the artist synthesizes influences from traditions normally held in opposition, the linear realism of traditional Western drawing and calligraphic legacy of Chinese ink painting. In doing so, Liu not only revitalizes the historic traditions of guohua, or native painting, but invents a distinctly contemporary manifestation of ink painting.
Among his most acclaimed works are his intricate depictions of scholar-stones, based on a meditative and intense observation of the object. Liu describes the process as a "micro exploration through macro understanding." They are both scientific and spiritual, rendered in meticulous detail while embodying the Daoist principles of yin and yang energies, described by Chinese scholar Ah Cheng as "an open exploration of the connection between mind and Dao. Scholar's rocks are considered the quintessential expression of these two concepts."
Coming of age during the era of the Cultural Revolution had deep psychological effects on Liu Dan, who has since described his pursuit of "true knowledge" as a core element of his artistic practice. This manifests most concretely in his monumentally scaled painting of a simple, timeworn Chinese dictionary published before the revolution took place. However, this passion is also evident in his continuous exploration of both style and subject, as he searches for the poetic space between what he describes as the realistic and abstract, or the rational and irrational, where the artist believes this truth exists.
Liu Dan Photo

Liu Dan was born in 1953 in regional capital city of Nanjing, literally translating to the "Southern Capital," in the Jiangsu province of China. Liu's paternal ancestors were part of the wealthy scholar-official class during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The family later fell from their elevated position during the 19th century when the artist's great grandfather, who became addicted to opium, wasted the family's fortune and lost their standing in the Imperial court. Liu grew up with his parents, both teachers, three siblings, and his grandfather who instilled in the young boy a respect for China's cultural past, even while this legacy was actively suppressed in the socialist schools Liu attended.

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