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Li Songsong, Dog Walking (II), 2015, oil on aluminium panel, 240 cm × 400 cm × 12.5 cm (94-1/2" × 13' 1-1/2" × 4-15/16") © Li Songsong

Li Songsong

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b. 1973, Beijing, China

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Li Songsong is renowned for his thickly layered paintings that animate the fragmentary nature of images and memory, paying particular attention to the people, events, and themes of modern and contemporary Chinese history.

Li graduated from the Subsidiary School of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1992 and received a B.F.A in oil painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1996. By the early 2000s, Li began to show his prominent style of heavily painted surfaces drawn from found imagery and mass media. These early works, such as Policemen (2001) and Big River (2001), are characterized by a distinctly monochromatic palette that express the haziness of memory and the impact of both historic and quotidian imagery. Li’s first solo exhibition Public Auction – Work Horse at Qinghua University of Fine Arts, Beijing (2001), would highlight this distinct style. In 2002, Li was one of the first to inhabit a studio in the famous 798 Art District in Beijing, during which time he began to include multiple color schemes into his work and increasingly add more extraordinarily thick and layered pigments.

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Li Songsong, Flying, 2005, oil on aluminum panel, 92.5 cm x 182.5 cm (36-7/16" x 71-7/8")

Li’s interest in the way images cultivate histories and provoke memories, even if their relationship or reference to the past is nebulous and indirect, is marked by his inclusion of offset grids, or “crops,” of images that are worked through different palettes. As seen in J (2005) and Flying (2005), these grids compose a singular image that often resides between the abstract and the representative. Although his compositions draw on found imagery—with a range of sources including restaurant advertisements, historical photographs, and movie stills, among others—Li freely reinterprets his sources, altering or omitting visual information. Li has experimented with other surfaces and media, such as oil on aluminum in Unnamed Lake (2013) or his more sculptural work in the pieces Big Container (2010) and R41 (2012), each as three-dimensional oil-painted objects, pushing his sense of painterly space into the physical realm.

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Li Songsong, Historical Materialism, 2014, oil on canvas, 330 cm x 400 cm x 10 cm (overall), 110 cm x 170 cm (each, 9 pieces)

The works made by Li eschew narratives, presenting pieces and traces of something rather than a totalizing record, creating new ways of looking at existing information in which the primary and subordinate visual elements are equally empowered. In Historical Materialism (2014) draws on the historic notion of the material conception of history as outlined by Karl Marx and yet expresses an openness to reading, with figures strewn about what looks like a grassy hill or concrete landscape holding numbers. The disjointed nature of the artist’s “cells” point to the history of studies in Western painting and of the ubiquity of images in the digital age. Li’s show Historical Materialism at the Museo d’Arte Modema di Bologna, Italy (2015), which traveled to Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2016), explored these concepts through over a decade of his work. Most recently Li’s Non-Revision was organized by the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China (2018) highlighted paints and sculptures from a large selection of Li’s practice from the past twenty years.

Through painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation, the artist strips the source material from its original context and intention. His objectivity evokes a rethinking of historical memory and deliberately opens the distance between the original and the transcript, leading the viewer to the imagination of various other possibilities.

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Li Songsong, Beihai (II), 2016, oil on canvas, 240 cm × 480 cm × 12 cm (94-1/2" × 15' 9" × 4-3/4") © Li Songsong

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Li Songsong, Rather be Dancing (II), 2016, oil on canvas, 210 cm × 210 cm × 11 cm (82-11/16" × 82-11/16" × 4-5/16") © Li Songsong