China artist Liu Xiaodong goes local in London for first UK show

Fri Sep 27, 2013 11:52am EDT
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By Paul Casciato and Minnie Brookfield

LONDON (Reuters) - One of China's best known artists, Liu Xiaodong, headed down to the pub for inspiration for his first London show.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled 50-year-old artist has spent the last three decades capturing the lives of ordinary people in his paintings, painted-over photographs, diaries and films from China to Europe and the Middle East.

His "Half Street" exhibition depicts the lives of people Liu befriended over six weeks in two pubs and an Egyptian café, just steps from the Lisson gallery where the large oil-on-canvas paintings are displayed alongside acrylic photo-paintings.

"It's such an exciting thing to share with other people," said Liu, a leading figure among Chinese Neo-Realist painters and professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA).

Liu likes to spend time getting to know his subjects. The Beijing-based artist writes and draws in a journal and then takes photographs before building a temporary studio in situ, to paint 'en plein air' or 'xiesheng' in Chinese.

It's a technique he has used previously living and painting among local people from Tibet to Israel. Critics have compared his work to that of British painter Lucian Freud.

"The background is important," he told Reuters in an interview this week.

In London he was invited into the homes of the staff at The Perseverance pub, had dinner with them, smoked with them and walked their dogs.   Continued...

Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong poses for a portrait in front of his painting titled "Green Pub" at the Lisson Gallery in London September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning