Liang Yuanwei’s first solo show at Boers-Li Gallery featured a collection of paintings that revel in the simple aesthetic pleasures of textile design yet question the medium’s greater worth. The show was comprised of a single series of 14 large-sized paintings and 12 smaller works all titled A Piece of Life (2006-08). Each work conflates process with product and high art with commercial design.
Born in Xi’an in 1977, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) graduate is a significant member of N12, an enterprising group of CAFA students who exhibited together in the early 2000s. “BLDG 115, RM 1904,” which refers to the apartment in which the works were executed, continued her examination of quotidian themes and the semiotics of their expression. In her “A Piece of Life” series, she painstakingly recreates patterns taken from samples of clothing, curtains, and other found materials with oil on canvas. On canvases ranging from small to staggeringly large, Liang wields her oils with a three-dimensional sensibility, scratching floral and geometric patterns onto planes of thickly applied paint. Then applying another contrasting layer of paint to the chasms created out of her etchings in the first, Liang constructs layered and textured surfaces. Liang’s meticulous process is present throughout the gallery; each strip of each painting is described in the exhibition literature as requiring up to 12 hours of work, with two discarded attempts, a smaller study and an original cloth sample corresponding to each work included in the exhibition.
What is significant in these paintings is not the marvel of the successful execution of a unique and challenging technique, but Liang’s refusal to engage in shortcuts. She paints every inch of her canvases instead of delegating the time-consuming work to assistants, as is common in a place like Beijing where works can be fabricated with great ease. Collectively, the paintings raise a series of questions: What is the significance of a medium when works in oil mimic designs in fabric? Is the defining quality of each work its process or its concept, and where do we draw the line between daily manifestations of culture and those that are elevated—or debased—to the realm of art? These works offer no explicit answers, only delicate decorative pleasures and interpretive depth for those who seek it.