ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Yingfei Li - 2021 - Through the kitsch to the core [EN, essay]
Through kitsch to the core of things (which is their wondrous fleeting)
About the still lifes of Yingfei Li
Yingfei Li was born in 1991 in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in central China. She grew up in a garden at the foot of an unspoiled mountain, where she went in search of fossils. Her father, an architect, taught her a traditional painting technique on silk and paper, with which she copied the flowers of the garden. Because the camellia flowers withered too quickly, her father secretly made paper replicas which he hung in the bush at night so she could paint them during the day. They also rescue injured animals that were cured by her mother, who is a doctor. Some of the rescued animals, including several pigeons and a fox, didn’t want to leave anymore. Once a month they were visited by a grateful, fat cat.
These anecdotes are not without importance, as they help us better understand or feel Li's paintings. “In the West,” she says, “art is judged by the eyes and the head.” In China, painting is associated with tastes, smells, sounds, and tactile experiences. The painting evokes a dynamic, richly varied world, which is not limited to what you see and think.
Since she came to study fashion in London ten years ago, painting in Antwerp, sculpture in Munich and now painting in Ghent again, Yingfei has searched for forms to translate her artistic sensibility into a specific painterly approach. One of the biggest stumbling blocks was the indiscriminate, brutal handling of colours she met in the West, which contrasts sharply with a Chinese sensitivity to nuances and shades, for instance to evoke a foggy or rainy landscape. Her breakthrough came two years ago when she discovered French Rococo painters such as Fragonard and Watteau with their specific approach to colour, sensuality and elegance. During her stay in Munich, in addition to kitschy figurines that reminded her of these paintings, she discovered old wooden tools at flea markets that evoked both China and paintings by Jan Steen. All these influences merged with the variety, sensuality and rich texture of Corot’s paintings to form a way of painting in which each represented object, be it a flower, an animal, an umbrella, a book or another painting is rendered with a freely applied, sensuous, colourful texture. Li’s work stems from observation, but an observation in the broadest sense of the word, connected with her youthful quests for fossils, her caring for objects, plants and animals, and a personal use of bright colours. The resulting paintings present themselves as living, colourful objects reflecting light as slowly moving objects in a garden.
Montagne de Miel, 14 August 2021