Li Jin (b. 1958 in Tianjin, China) is best known for his lush and colorful depictions of sensory pleasures in contemporary China. In his banquet scenes and anecdotal vignettes, voluptuous men and women are surrounded with food in various states of undress and sexual intimacy, but appear awkwardly out of place or spiritually vacant. Often portraits of the artist himself, the figures suggest both playful self-amusement and reflective distance. Indeed, even at their most extravagant, Li Jin's pleasures scenes are tinged with the melancholy of solitude and the unreality of a dream or a memory.
In truth, Li Jin's art has always had a spiritual undertone, perhaps even a spiritual purpose. In 1984, inspired by the examples of van Gogh and Gauguin, he went to Tibet in search for an authentic life and primal connection to nature. There, particularly after witnessing a sky burial, he began to reflect on the limits of corporeal existence. Drawn to the religiosity and the sense of time and history in Tibetan culture, he would sojourn twice again in the region, but would gradually come to recognize its essential alienness from himself.
Upon leaving Tibet in 1993, he set out to embrace the shifting realities of contemporary China under liberalization. Influenced by his encounter with the New Literati painter Zhu Xinjian in Nanjing, and inspired by his new life in a Beijing hutong, he developed an aesthetics of xianhuo, or "aliveness." His paintings came to represent food, sex, and other aspects of quotidian life with honesty and enthusiasm, and in a manner strongly evoking first-hand experience. As he gained in reputation and exposure, his paintings also changed, becoming increasingly boisterous and incorporating experiences of his travels abroad.
The major 2015 retrospective exhibition The Sensory Life of the Mass: 30 Years of Li Jin concluded a phase of his career. Li Jin has now turned his focus towards painting in monochrome, translating his well-honed sensitivity towards color washes into a masterful control of tonality--what is traditionally called the "five colors of ink." He paints in a looser, more gestural and expressive daxieyi style, exploiting the accidental effects of the medium. As if again retreating from the mundane world as he did decades ago in Tibet, Li Jin now seeks to return to a state of freedom and unencumbered creativity.
Li Jin graduated in 1983 from the Chinese Painting Department of the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, where he served as Associate Professor until 2018. He was awarded Annual Ink Artist at the 2012 Award of Art China. In 2014, he was selected Artist of the Year by the authoritative publication L'OFFICIEL Art. Li Jin has mounted solo exhibitions in China and in Australia, Germany, and the United States, among other countries. His works are in the collections of major institutions such as the National Art Museum of China; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Seattle Art Museum; Hong Kong Museum of Art; and Metropolitan Museum of Art.