Liu Yi
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The Interview: Liu Yi (柳毅)


Liu Yi is a renowned watercolour artist from Shanghai, member of the China Artists Association and International Watercolour Society. More than twenty of his watercolour works of art won prestigious awards at home and international exhibitions. Liu Yi’s watercolours are held in the collection of museums, local governments, libraries, enterprises, art galleries and international private collections. Mr. Yi is also the author of several books exploring the art of watercolour.

Liu Yi
Liu Yi

— What philosophy lies behind your artwork?

— I have pure, deep and indivisible feeling towards watercolour painting, which is entirely associated with my individual and specific understanding of “watercolour language”, and my perception of the rules of art.

“In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.”

“Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them.”

“The best man is like water this is why it is so near to Tao.”

The best man is like water.
Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them.
It dwells in lowly places that all disdain.
This is why it is so near to Tao. – The Tao Te Ching

“Water Organ”, watercolour, Liu Yi
“Water Organ”, watercolour, Liu Yi

“Water language” (Pun: In Chinese “Water language” is a short form of “watercolour language”) contains my philosophy of “harmony between a man and nature” in Chinese culture, and also represents my determination to superb watercolour painting.

All my works – “Jiangnan water town”, “Garden Poetry”, “Water Organ”, “Nation fascination” and “Ballet rhythm”, all my watercolour works were created with the medium of “water language” to express the image and create its silhouette and shape.

Landscape, watercolour, Liu Yi
Landscape, watercolour, Liu Yi

— How do you prepare yourself to creative process? What inspires you?

— Creating an artwork in watercolour is the process of searching for beauty and its embodiment. Beauty is the perfection of art, it relates to the “opportunity to communicate people psychological, visual and sensual pleasure and delight, thus influence the beauty of mind” (From the essay “About Watercolour Characters” by Guan Weixing, ed. Chai Yang).

Beauty is an essential part of the artistic content of watercolour painting, as well as the highest artistic form, the criteria of truth and goodness.

Beauty exists in life.

The highest moral duty of an artist is to communicate sincere love to life, investing all their talent, knowledge and skills, while intentionally paying attention to life itself and the their perception of life.

To see the beauty in life, to grasp its sense, the essence of object and artistic inspiration, colour relationship and esthetical sense of beauty and shape – this is the mission of an artist.

Flower, watercolour, Liu Yi
Flower, watercolour, Liu Yi

— What artists inspired you in the beginning of your art activity?

— Artistic activity requires talent, diligence, eargeness, inspiration, and constanct learning from other artists. I learn a lot from classical Chinese traditional works of art always discovering something new and useful. I follow the Swedish artist's, Anders Leonard Zorn's, example of light and colour interaction, I find the influences of light on colour in his artwork fascinating. I marvel easy, effortless and free manner of painting of the American painter Richard Schmid.

To create an artwork from the scratch and transform dullness into lucidity, to embody the feelings accumulated inside, the artist should have certain preconditions: the value of active progress and education, but most importantly constant learning of life around us, transmission of our experience and feelings, abundant range of sentiments and associative thinking.

Ballet, watercolour, Liu Yi
Ballet, watercolour, Liu Yi

— Ballet is a frequent theme in your artwork. Why is it so close to you?

— The beauty of the city is expressed not only in its appearance, as it also exists within the culture and ego of the citizens. Ballet is the pearl of the art of dance. It is esthetical, beautiful and sophisticated, and is a classical form of the urban culture. The series of my ballet watercolours is full of rich atmosphere of modernity, but at the same time contains a deep meaning and brevity of classical art. Ballet poetically reflects human beauty and that of characters, and painted in modern urban atmosphere, which is full of elegant sentiments.

The idea of creating ballet series was natural for me. I am very passionate about ballet, because as I child I was brought up with love to ballet. At that time of enrolment at the school of ballet two places for boys were available. The tutor said I had good dance ability and let me pass the exam, however I chose painting before ballet.

I always liked the spirit and sentiments of ballet. That is why when I started to pain portraits I thought of ballet. With the rhythmic body movements, ballet expresses poetry and life awareness, and I am trying to convey it in my paintings.

A man itself is a difficult theme for art, and an artist confronts many technical problems to explore it with the medium of watercolour. It is necessary to evaluate and learn the background of ballet as the perfection of dancing art, and furthermore grasp and transmit the character and spirit of a dancer. Therefore, it s not an easy task and the ballet series for me is a new challenge towards self-improvement.

Ballet, watercolour, Liu Yi
Ballet, watercolour, Liu Yi

— What instruments and techniques do you use? Which of the books you published you would recommend for learning watercolour?

— Watercolour is a tricky paint and it is not limited to conveying the sentiments of an artist – many watercolour artists know about the difficulties of watercolour painting.

Watercolour is constancy with accidents with the power of spirit, so as an artistic form, which shows the ability of an artist to generalise, synthesise and control the artwork.

My watercolour paintings are full of the “water rhythm” and made with “wet-on-wet” technique.

In my book “Water. Expression-Watercolor by Liu Yi” I give an insight into my watercolour artwork and my understanding of watercolour as an art, as well as the concepts of water rhythm, rhythm of colour, brush, mind and poetry. The watercolour rhythm fascinates with the simultaneous refraction of light and venue, and I convey my way of learning and understanding this art. The first and second editions by Publishing House of Electronics Industry are now sold out.

Figures, watercolour, Liu Yi
Figures, watercolour, Liu Yi

All images courtesy of Liu Yi

Official website of Liu Yi

1 你的作品背后有什么哲学?






无论是“江南水乡”,“园林诗情”,“水风琴”,还是“民族风情”,“芭蕾回韵”, 我创作的水彩画,都是用“水语”来表达我对作品所赋予的意象与境界的。

2 你如何准备创作过程?什么启发你?





3 在艺术活动开始时,哪些艺术家启发了你?



4 芭蕾舞是您作品中常见的主题。为什么这么靠近你?

城市的美不仅表现在它的表象之中,还存在于“城市文化与城市人的自我力量之中”。芭蕾艺术作为舞蹈艺术皇冠上的明珠,她唯美脱俗,是城市文化的经典表现。我的水彩画“芭蕾系列” 既富现代气息,又蕴涵着古典艺术理智的深邃与凝练,诗情地展现芭蕾人物的造型美、意象美,谱写的是充满都市品味和情趣的典雅抒情的散文诗。




5 你使用什么仪器和技术?你出版的哪本书你会推荐学习水彩画?





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