Liu Ye’s small, flat photo-realistic paintings are of books collected by the artists’ parents during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The books are often theory, text-books or works of literature – some of which (such as Nabokov’s Lolita) have political connotations.
Although the images are very cleanly painted, some of the books are displayed upside down and often with a dark edge running along the top. On first glance this gives the impression that the canvasses were painted from badly developed photographs or slides, however in some images, such as ‘Book Painting No. 1’ (below), we can see that the line is intentional as pages stray over it. This gives the suggestion that we are looking at books neatly placed on the edge of a table. And the fact that the book is upside down to us, could suggest that we are looking at the object from above that table where it is positioned.
This little game places us in the scene ourselves, as if we are in the shoes of the artist, standing apprehensively over the books. As we only see the cover of the books or blank pages, the content is closed off to us, so our focus is drawn to either the specific book (if we can see the cover), or the heft of the volume if it splayed open.
Together the detached way we are looking at the books, the cool, clinical rendering and the themes of the tomes depicted create a sense of nostalgia, as if the works are actually markers of remembrance of a specific time and place. Cumulatively the collection of paintings give us an insight into the artist’s particular experience.