The sculptures included in Spiritual Journey, with their polished, charcoal black figures, childlike in appearance, ballooned in form, touched here and there with either gold, silver and red, resemble the large religiously-inspired sculptures they closely resemble. These are mirthful works, celebrations of human life and the possibility of achieving transcendence.
The figures contained in the Ordinary Peoples series, located at the back of the gallery’s first floor, are made from made from ochre-colored clay and mud that have dried and cracked. They are grotesques that seem frail, ready to crumble and return to the earth.
Human frailty is further underscored in Immortality of Fate: Living Soul series, located on the gallery’s second floor, where wood serves as the primary material. Figuration remains, but the manner in which the wood is pieced together and scorched with fire borders on the abstract. One figure hangs from what looks like a noose; another shows two figures wrestling. This isn’t the best of all worlds, one thinks.
Though limited in size, this exhibition provides a clear narrative of Li’s recent oeuvre, while the drawings provide a greater context to understand the artist’s development from a craftsman influenced by religious iconography to a more mature use of materials that introduces a human element not before seen. Looking at these figures is truly a great way to begin the New Year, regardless of your spiritual pretensions.