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Chinese Artist Explores Moments from His Past with Tactile Impasto Paintings

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“Civil Rather than Military,” 2018. © Li Songsong

Working from found photographs and old press images, Chinese artist Li Songsong explores his cultural history with a series of textured impasto paintings. Thick layers of paint in cool shades of gray and green adorn his canvases, resulting in abstract portraits and landscapes that reveal fragments of China’s past.

While many of Songsong’s works visualize historical events of the 20th century, others depict more personal subjects. His painting titled Civil Rather Than Military is based on a photo of the artist’s own grandfather from the early 1960s. “I started this painting a month after my grandfather passed away.” reveals Songsong. “I know what kind of person he was, but not until this year was I really willing to think deeply about him.” The tribute piece is rendered from thick swatches of oil paint, creating a pointillism effect—the image is only revealed once the viewer steps back. “I used a technique in which it is nearly impossible to paint delicate details,” says the artist. “But in the end, the work still ended up with lots of expressive detail and an almost idealized quality, as if from a fairytale.”

Although Songsong works from found imagery, he freely interprets the visual information in his own way. The artist’s tactile, impasto style of painting draws the viewer in, but his choice of color palette evokes the alienation of his subjects. In one piece, titled Owga (III), Songsong depicts the back of a human head, creating cold distance between us and the faceless figure. When talking about using photos as a reference, he says, “Of course, they are a starting point, but they will affect you more on a psychological level than in a narrative way.”

You can take a closer look at Songsong’s paintings at One of My Ancestors, his solo show currently on view through December 21, 2019 at Pace Gallery in New York City. If you can’t make to NYC, you can check out more of the artist’s thought-provoking work on his website.

Chinese artist Li Songsong explores his cultural history with a series of textured impasto paintings.

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“South,” 2017. © Li Songsong

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“Taoyuan Airport,” 2008. © Li Songsong

He works from found photographs and old press images…

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“Tempest,” 2019. © Li Songsong

…but freely interprets the visual information in his own, abstract style.

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“Owga (III),” 2019. © Li Songsong

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“Dog Walking (II),” 2015. © Li Songsong

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

“My Homeland,” 2004. © Li Songsong

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

© Li Songsong / Pace Gallery

Impasto Paintings by Li Songsong

© Li Songsong / Pace Gallery

Li Songsong: Website

My Modern met granted permission to feature photos by Li Songsong / Pace Gallery.

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