4 stages of life: The ongoing stories as a Chinese American artist’s transformation
“The world is an open book from which I read and live, fail and learn. I paint these moving images which are for me both fundamental and intimate. Painting is the best way to explore internal adventure by taking different paths without fear of risk, as my life is both glory and failure. Every one of my paintings tells a story, expresses a life, points to a path. I hope they will inspire you.”
---- June Li, 2012
Over my painting career, I have been influenced by many different movements and painters, notably:Movements - Northern European Symbolism, Impressionism, Cubism, German Expressionism, The Blue R ider Group, Russian Constructivism.
Artists - Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, Gaudí, Rodin, Munch, Klimt, Schiele, Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Pollock, Kline.
I. The early days of an unhappy marriage, young motherhood and the story of family and love.
In 1999 I moved to Sonoma, CA, from Southern China to marry and follow the path my family had chosen for me. I became a traditional housewife at the age of 21, while other girls the same age were partying and pursuing their own dreams.
My son was born a year later. Away from my family, in an unhappy marriage and Isolated in a small town, I lived a life limited to church every weekend; I couldn’t find peace through Jesus. I had a luxurious lifestyle, but my spirit was empty and depressed. My paintings were the sketches of loneliness born of a desire for love. I lived in the past and stuck in my inner world.
Three Stages of Life (2002, Oil on Canvas, 38”x72”) tells the story of my transformation from young girl to woman, and from woman to mother and housewife. My dreams of freedom cut short by a family life born of Chinese tradition valuing obedience.
Unforgotten / Night Light / Beloved / Leaves and roots
II. Transformation from the feminine to the organic beauty of nature.
A few years later, I ventured out of my interior world to explore the beauty of nature. Living in Sonoma and Bodega Bay, inspired by the beautiful vineyards, botanical gardens and undersea creatures, I painted a series of organic forms. I collected branches, flowers, leaves and seashells, which I studied extensively before painting them. I humanized dancing and other poetical expressions of my inner world of fantasy and romanticized perfection. Writing, classical music and modern dance played a large role in my life at the time. These works are shaped by their femininity, grace and passion.
Deep Sea (2006, Oil on Canvas, 24”x40”), is representative of that period. The “sea” is on the left, while the bold red is my own “deep” insight.
Deep Sea / Bloom I / Bloom II / Passion Fruit
III. Escape from my arranged marriage and my search for individual expression, exploring city life, traveling and other adventures.
In 2007, after eight years of depression, I decided to leave my marriage and move to my beloved city, San Francisco. I relinquished all my property and ran away with a single bag of belongings and one month’s rent. I lost everything, but felt I owned everything. A few months later, a new job and an art studio in Potrero Hill allowed me to continue painting. Amidst these new surroundings, I found my true self.
I explored city life, making new friends, traveling, trying alcohol, drugs, underground parties, Burning Man, talking to prostitutes and strippers... exploring neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, visiting homeless shelters, experiencing the darkest and deepest side of humanity. I painted a series of urban cityscapes. My color palette ranged from warm to colder and from broad to more selective hues.
Tenderloin (2011, Oil on Canvas, 24”x36”), portrays San Francisco nightlife. A cityscape where use of dramatic lighting adds emotion and excitement.
Tenderloin / Chinatown / Sin City / Pier 9
IV. A new way of seeing: Less is more. Abstraction.
At a certain point, explicit narrative could no longer satisfy my creativity. I felt that objects, by themselves allowed a very limited expression. What about emotions? Compassion, peace, joy, love, regret, fear, grief? I began the search for a new way to express these emotions.
After many experiments I found that “less is more”. I translated complex thoughts into simple ones. Minimalism allowed more powerful expression. I painted the Time and Space and New Element series with this concept in mind.
The Path (2012, Oil on Canvas, 24”x36”), is a work from the Time and Space series. People making life choices ranging from large (school, job, marriage) to small (changes in daily routine). Different choices lead to a completely different life experience. As much as choice can be unpredictable, it’s exciting. We can’t change the past, we can’t predict the future; we can only control our choices in the moment.
White Sea / Black Fall / Spirit of the Stone / Present
The Space I / The Elements / The Path / New Dimensions