|Liu Zhen's works are unique in two respects: the first is reflected in his artistic training and concepts, and the second in the nature of his works. Liu's solo exhibition at M Gallery is his first and features his major works since 2005, which have never been shown before.
Academicism outside academicism
Liu Zhen was born in Beijing. According to his interview, ever since his early childhood he has been immersed in art. He began as a self-taught artist, illustrating his textbooks with his own graffiti. Later he studied with a professional artist, Song Zhijiang, an art professor who was trained in a traditional Russian academic style. From him Liu received his foundation in art and his training in sketching and drawing, those basic art skills. From this training, Liu mastered the ability to capture a subject's proportions and movement.
Even today, Liu's basic training is evident in his creations. From his work in Africa as a Chinese diplomat to his current status as a professional artist, he continues to draw and paint still-life pieces. In the works shown here, it is not difficult to see the impact of his basic practices on his drawings and his understanding of the importance of an academic style. He uses this skill to paint his subjects. Even though his paintings are rich, the proportion and quality of his figures is emphasized. Liu paints his figures based on computer-generated images, a creative technique he uses in place of drawing from life. His mastery of realistic style and technique sets his figures apart from their background. He uses grey tones to unify entire elements in his pictures and to render in his pictures beautiful and aesthetic characteristics. His works strongly suggest an academic style but at the same time adapt nontraditional subject matter: his naked body or a female nude, glasses, and a chameleon.
Liu's style differs from an academic style largely because of his experiences of studying, living, and working. Although he wanted to become a professional artist, he attended a language college to study the French language and culture. Inspired by French culture and literature, Liu's works express a French-like romantic feeling, reflected in his figures' eyes and features. The grey tones of his works convey a sense of history and sadness similar to that which we often see in black-and-white movies. In addition, Liu's works convey a mystery, like a poem. His works are often composed of the three elements discussed above, which together create a bizarre scene. He leaves viewers no clues to unravel the mystery. He often composes his major figures at the center front of a painting, a technique that strongly unifies its other elements. His paintings are full of visual tension and a dramatic and theatrical feeling that excites the viewer's eyes and heart. The chameleon as subject matter is like an accent of the mysterious feeling in his paintings, which contain strange features and eccentric feelings.
The artist selected the chameleon as his subject matter because he was impressed by the creature during his period as a diplomat in Africa. And his African experiences play a major role in his creations. As he said, Africa itself is a work of art, including common people, normal objects, and natural scenes that to him express a sense of surrealism. The chameleon is a "souvenir" of the Republic of Madagascar, the country in which he spent the most time during his African period. He photographed various kinds of scenes during this period.
When we compare Liu Zhen's works with those of other Chinese artists, we see that Liu's works are very unique, very different from them. In his works, we do not find the usual Chinese symbols such as politicians and so forth. Instead, we find simple signs: figures, glasses, a chameleon. The artist uses these icons to create a simulated space. The presence of the glasses suggests to the viewer that space is simulated. I propose that we consider this idea further, interpreting it in terms of the rapid transformation of China's urbanism. Although the artist relates this space to the world of the Internet, we could discover a simulated space in China's urban features. As China transforms its urban spaces into those of a consumer culture, electronic billboards and advertisements envelope the living environment, creating a simulated space. In Liu's works, the chameleon functions naturally as simulation when it changes the color of its skin to adapt to its environment, thus protecting itself from danger. Does the simulation of the chameleon in Liu's works reveal the negative impact of the Chinese urban landscape on its inhabitants' lives? If so, I suggest that Liu uses a metaphor to criticize the living conditions of current Chinese-that they must simulate their environment in order to survive. As a result, Liu's works are profound and up-to-date.