b. 1944 in Yibin, Sichuan province, lives and works in Chengdu, Sichuan Province
Li Huasheng is a classically-trained ink painter who explores the shared phenomenology between mind-hand embodiment in classical brush and ink practice in calligraphy and landscape painting and time- and process-based practices employed in contemporary art. Li's practice includes processual grid paintings, abstract ink landscapes, photography and ink-and-paper-based installations.
Before embarking on his exploration of processual abstraction, Li Huasheng was widely recognized one of the pre-eminent traditional landscape artists of his generation and was featured in a national exhibition of China's ten leading contemporary artists at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (1981), the Contemporary Chinese Painting exhibition that toured eight museums across the United States (1983-1985), and the seminal exhibition Tradition and Innovation that traveled to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Singapore Art Museum, the British Museum, London, and the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst Köln, Germany (1995). During this time, Li also traveled outside of China where he held solo exhibitions at Harvard University, Yale University, University of Michigan, and University of Washington (1987) and at the National Museum of Singapore (1992).
Li Huasheng describes his travels in the United States as liberating. Unable to speak English, he was free to experience life unencumbered by the social, cultural and historical expectations that accompanied his status as one of China's most highly acclaimed living landscape artists. When Li returned from the US, he no longer felt able to paint landscapes in the traditional manner as he had before. Living now as a reclusive, he departed on seasonal excursions into the Himalayas-Chinese landscape artists had never addressed these mountains as a subject and he felt drawn to their remoteness. During his travels, Li frequently stayed overnight in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and woke, in the early hours, to the rhythmic sounds of the resident monks chanting their morning prayers. It then occurred to him that the way he would paint the Himalayas was not by depicting their outward form but by recording his state of mind while living amidst the mountains themselves.
By 1998, this insight had led Li Huasheng to develop an entirely novel, unprecedented practice as an ink artist: while in a disciplined, meditative state, Li hand-limns vast grids of horizontal and vertical lines. Each hand-brushed line —like an embodied EKG of his being in time— captures and records the moment-by-moment phenomenological state of his body, perceptions, feelings, emotions and thoughts. Holding the brush as only a painter trained through decades of practice is able, Li deploys each line in a state of meditative concentration, so that any minor fluctuations are directly attributable to fluctuations in qi, or the vital energy of his body and mind. This practice has occupied him for over a decade.
Since the year 2000, when they drew international notice at the Shanghai Biennale, Li Huasheng's grid paintings have been an essential feature of almost every major exhibition of Chinese contemporary ink painting, particularly abstract ink painting. Li's grids have been featured twice at the Shanghai Biennale (2000, 2002), the Guangdong Museum of Art (2001), the First Chinese Art Triennial Exhibition at the Guangzhou Art Museum (2002), the National Art Museum of China in Beijing (2003, 2013); the International Ink Painting Biennale at the Shenzhen Art Museum (2004, 2008), the Shenzhen Fine Art Institute (2005); the Shanghai Art Museum (2005); the China Millennium Monument in Beijing (2006), the Shanghai Doulun Museum of Modern Art (2006, 2009); Reboot: The Third Chengdu Biennale at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu (2007), the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal of the He Xiangning Art Museum in Shenzhen (2007, 2013), and the Today Art Museum in Beijing (2007, 2009, 2011).
International curators and critics such as Gao Minglu have recognized the importance of Li's processual practice and featured his grid paintings in seminal exhibits such as Chinese Maximalism at the China Millennium Monument in Beijing and the UB Anderson Gallery at University at Buffalo in New York (2003); Prayer Beads and Brush Strokes at Beijing Tokyo Art Projects, Beijing (2003); Yi Pai: Thirty Years of Chinese Abstraction at the Wall Museum in Beijing and La CaixaForum Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, and Madrid, Spain (2008); Yi Pai at the Today Art Museum in Beijing (2009); Ink and Paper-Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Art at the Guangdong Museum of Art and the Kunsthalle in Weimar, Germany (2005); Korean-Chinese Contemporary Ink Painting at the Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea (2005); Ink Narrative at the Yokohama Art Project in Yokohama, Japan (2007); Form, Idea, Essence and Rhythm at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (2008); and Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2013).
For Process, Mind and Landscape –November 29, 2014 through January 31, 2015– Ink Studio Artistic Director, Britta Erickson, has curated a solo retrospective that surveys Li Huasheng's artistic practice since his 1998 break with tradition. The exhibition includes a wide selection of Li's signature processual grids that reveal rich and subtle variations developed within this long-standing series; a focused selection of Li's rarely-exhibited, highly-abstract ink landscapes created contemporaneously with his processual grids; and a new series of works that unites Li's grids with the his explorations of gestural abstraction in both landscape painting and calligraphy. Exhibited works include a singular, monumental set of iconic grid paintings –0699 (five panels each 365 x 148 cm)– and a special meditation room where visitors can spend an extended amount of time immersed in the experience of Li's process.
Li Huasheng's works can be found in the permanent collections of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the British Museum, London, the Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, the Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, the He Xiangning Art Museum-OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, and the permanent art collections of Harvard University, Yale University, University of Washington and University of Michigan.
Li Huasheng's traditional landscape painting is the subject of a monograph by Jerome Silbergeld, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art History at Princeton University, Contradictions: Artistic Life, the Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter Li Huasheng (1993) and his artistic practice since Silbergeld's ground-breaking study is the subject of the forthcoming monograph, Li Huasheng: Process, Mind and Landscape, edited by Britta Erickson and distributed internationally by D.A.P. Li Huasheng is also the subject of the documentary film "Li Huasheng's Ambivalence," in the series The Enduring Passion of Ink, directed by Britta Erickson and filmed by Richard Widmer.