Way Out West
- Li Wei presents a vibrant, circumspect view of rural China
As you walk into the main exhibition room at Noeli Gallery, you'll be forgiven for thinking that Li Wei¡¯s ¡°Motherland¡± is a photography exhibition. So detailed are his works and so vibrant the colors that it¡¯s easy to mistake them for photographs. It¡¯s only when you approach each piece and study it that you see the brushstrokes and notice the texture of the watercolor paper. ¡°Motherland¡± is a collection of eight watercolors and six pencil portraits depicting scenes of daily life in Tibet by prolific Shanghai-born artist Li Wei.
Six pencil portraits line the walls of Noeli¡¯s small lobby, ranging in subject matter from a plump, smiling toddler to a middle-aged Slavic man with distant eyes. The detail in each portrait is exquisite, and Li Wei¡¯s manipulation of light is a portent of what is to come in the main exhibition. Among the most striking of the eight watercolors is On the Stage, which depicts three young girls in red traditional costume, presumably in repose between scenes of a dance show. The legs of adult performers form the background, and the little girls are distracted by a game. In Heritage, an infant girl in Tibetan dress plays by an old, stone gate; the two women in Mother and Daughter embody the dichotomy between honouring tradition versus moving with modern times. The older woman is seated, looking down, while her daughter stands beside her, looking into the distance.
The only piece that does not contain a person is Early Spring in Wuyuan, and the sole work showing non-traditional dress is In A Barber¡¯s Shop, depicting a woman in a shard of light, dressed in modern attire. Indeed, light plays an important part in Li Wei¡¯s work, accentuating the elements he feels are most relevant. In Return, the haunting eyes of a girl focus on the viewer¨Ca baby on her back, and a weather-worn ram¡¯s skull behind them on a stone wall. The light falls on the brightly-clad children, implying their embodiment of a hopeful future.
In a city where much of the contemporary art on display tends towards the abstract and surreal, it is refreshing to see an exhibition of figurative work verging on photo-realism. Noeli is the perfect location for an exhibition like this. One of the smallest and most intimate galleries in town, its dark wood floors and unfussy d¨¦cor allow the work to speak for itself. The placement of the pencil portraits in the lobby is a sensible decision, as it allows them to act as an introduction to the larger watercolor works inside.