East Meets West At Its Best

CHINESE ARTIST TIAN WEI LIU at the Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts; Aug. 12-Sept. 3; 549 Tremont St., Boston. Gallery hours: Tues.-Sat., 12-4 p.m.. Telephone: 426-7700.

by Jeanne Belovitch

Tian Wei Liu is one of the few artists from mainland China to exhibit in the United States. The Museum of Fine Arts' (MFA'S) Joan Cohen selected him to participate in the traveling exhibition Painting the Chinese Dream. During his visit to the United States he studied Western painting and sought a meeting point between Western and traditional Chinese painting. The result of these efforts is his show at the Mills.

Although Lian Wei Liu works in traditional ink brush on rice paper, he paints in the abstract, aiming for "simplicity, an efimmation of emotive qualities." The force of this simplicity is felt in the way he uses the meaning and value of the line in space, creating a sense of time.

In several pieces he plays with the forms of Chinese calligraphy, altering the shapes into abstract compositions, leaving viewers comfortable with the mysteries of the universe to which his abstractions allude. Tian Wei Liu prefers to work in black and white, and evoke a sense of color through tone.

His work is untitled. According to Mills Gallery Director John DeLancey, "He doesn't want the name to prejudice impressions." One receives many impressions from this artist's work. Eleven of the 18 paintings exhibited express tremendous energy and motion in black and white tones of grey, and small sparks of color which simultaneously disrupt and reconcile the senses.

His most definitive painting is that of a small house outlined in black strokes on white. A mass of feathered grey stretches from the right of the canvas toward the house. Is this a forest...an animal...a metaphor for danger? In these shapes, lines and whiteness, expressions of starkness, beauty, desolation, and tranquility emerge as a totality. This totality is the artist's simplicity.

Another piece, a purple and black abstraction, evokes laughter of its audience. Across the paper moves a heavy form of purple with undertones of black surrounded by white. Then skipping freely, almost whimsically beneath it are small black spots in various sizes. There's a sense of trickery and liberation in those spots. This abstraction is one of three sections which comprise the entire piece.

The one painting in which Tian Wei Liu uses a variety of colors: blue, red and a dull peach is reminiscent of Joan Miro's work; the color is subject to the authority of black lines that sweep around and through one another. In this painting, colorful confusion is ordered by the meaning of Tian Wei Liu's lines.

The artist's use of the line in space to create a sense of time is perhaps best demonstrated by a small white winged stroke, splashed with red that appears to soar downward against a black backdrop. A second critical look, however, indicates there is no backdrop. The black and white are equal in the force they create in space, making the impact of this painting immediate in time. One is not just looking at a painting. It has become part of its viewer.

Tian Wei Liu was in school when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966. He was 12 years old that year and his formal education ceased. His school engaged in political activity, organizing the children into political gangs of Red Guards. These groups denounced cadres, demanded confessions and ransacked homes and other places for bourgeois items such as books, paintings and antiques.

Because young Tian Wei Liu's father---a successful Shanghai artist---had been declared a counter revolutionary, the son was looked down upon, fortunately excluded from the Red Guard activity, and called upon to repudiate his father.

After three years of inquisitions and humiliation, his father, Liu Danzhai, was charged with the counter-revolutionary crimes of criticizing Mao's wife, Jian Qing, and painting bourgeois and reactionary subjects. In 1970, the father was isolated for one year. Subsequently, he was handcuffed for 14 months and in 1972/73, was imprisoned. Liu's mother was placed under arrest for some months, and people threw stones at young Tian Wei LIu.

Tian Wei LIu has been studying English and art at various American institutions, including the Museum School at the MFA in 1982.

Source: South End News, Boston, MA; 1984