Jaded Beauties and Decadent Beasts
Li Ji paints disturbing pictures of women and their pets to capture the decadence of today’s society in which women and men´s relations are reduced to the purely physical and financial.
Though an accomplished print-maker, Li Ji is perhaps best known for his paintings of women and their pets, in which he captures the decadence and vulgarity of today’s fast-growing materialistic culture. In his early paintings, his subjects’ heads were often excluded from the frame, and thus denied individuality or identity. Small animals – gibbons, cats and pigs – cling to women’s naked flesh, their human-like expressions displaying lust, desire and possession.
More recently Li Ji has incorporated whole female figures into his ‘Pet Series’. Though no longer at the prime of their youth, these women still dress in mini-skirts and revealing tops. The scarlet lipstick on their pallid faces smacks of artifice as much as the brightly-coloured backdrop against their grey flesh-toned skin. Cold and sordid images, the women´s haggered faces wear expressions of cynical disdain or sardonic confrontation.
The works from the ´Pet Series´ shown in the exhibition ´Three Artists from Kunming´ in Hong Kong in 1999 reflect the artist’s views of the fashion industry and commercialism. The catalogue accompanying the ‘Dream 02’ show in London, in which Li Ji also participated, discusses the paintings:
‘They feature beautifully dressed torsos, impersonal models taken from the catwalk, representing superficial qualities such as external beauty and the desire to have a perfect body. A male gibbon, symbol of man, clings to each torso in various sexually arousing positions, serving as her loyal companion. In today’s society, the possession of a model’s body and a small pet could represent a woman’s elevated class. The women in Li Ji’s paintings, however, with beauty and youth their only assets, convey nothing but loneliness and the emptiness of a hollow shell.’
Li Ji’s recent paintings continue to explore the allegorical potential of combining woman and animals. In one work, the pig (a word commonly used to refer to perverted males) is depicted lying happily on the torso of a beautiful woman, licking her breast. While the woman is clearly suffering this act, she continues to pose as a model with her arms raised and hips tilted.
The ‘Dream 02’ catalogue suggests, ‘The message is clear: the women and the animals are put together in the most intimate environment, yet they are fully absorbed in their own moment and are totally indifferent to each other. Li Ji’s paintings thus raise the question of obsession and possession.’ Elsewhere, one critic has observed, ‘These women represent modern ’concubines’ owned by wealthy men. Their relationships are purely financial and physical. The small animals are the possession of the women in the painting, but in reality, these women are also someone else’s belongings or possessions.’
Sources: ´Dream 02´ catalogue, Red Mansion Foundation, London, 2002
Li Ji was born in Kunming, Yunnan Province in 1963. He graduated from the Sichuan Art Academy in 1987 and completed his graduate studies at the Printing Department of the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing in 1990. Li Ji’s works have been exhibited internationally and acquired by private and public collections in the United States, Europe and Asia. He is currently vice professor of the Yunnan Art Academy.
Exhibition / Installation,
2002 ‘Dream 02’, The Red Mansion Foundation, the.gallery@oxo and the Bargehouse, London, UK
2002 ‘Tales of Two Cities’, Asia Contemporary Art, London, UK
2002 ‘Transparency-Opacity?’ La Villette, Paris, France
2002 ‘The Figure in Contemporary Chinese Art’, London Air Gallery
2001 ‘Flesh Tone Animals’, solo show, Shan Gallery, Hong Kong
2001 ‘Dream 01’, The Red Mansion Foundation, Atlantis Gallery, London
2001 ‘Dialogue with Dali’, Shanghai Art Fair, Shanghai, China
2000 ‘Tales of Two Cities’, Asia Contemporary Art, London, UK
1999 ‘Three Artists from Kunming’, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
1999 ‘To Open a New Channel’, the first collecting exhibition, Dongyu Museum of Fine Art, Shenyang, China
1999 ‘Moment’, Chicago University Art Gallery, USA
1998 ‘5th Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition’, China
1997 ‘Urban Personality’, Kunming, China
1996 ‘Life Style’, Yunnan University, China
1995 ‘Current State’, China–USA Art Exchange, Columbia University
On-line gallery featuring artist´s works