There is a sense of playing off structures, of pushing into space to then move into a fluid flow in Andrew Lui’s latest series of abstract, gestural paintings. The paintings feel rooted in a sense of identity that these emergent forms are at the point of appearing and disappearing. These paintings are ultimately informed by Lui’s youth in China, for the movement is calligraphic. Some of these works feel textural and coloristic like batiks. The rhythms break and, like sound art, move through silence to sound, from flow to reflection to flow. Still other surface elements are more tentative, searching, unresolved. They exist in tandem with the bolder build-ups of colour in swaths. These are the paintings of a person who has lived two existences – one closed, the other open – and we feel this tension in the art. Child-like, imaginative, yet also with a tension, a density of effect, all this rendered in a textural, gestural way. Born in Guangzhou (Canton), China in 1951, Lui participated in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and in the Reform period he was sent to a farm. He subsequently went into exile, swimming to Hong Kong in 1970. As a naturalized Canadian, Lui studied at the Ontario College of Art (1972-75), then the Academia Belle Arti in Florence, Italy. (1975-77), and later at the University of London (1977-78). In Toronto, Lui came to know William Kurulek, among others, and also became aware of Quebec’s Automatiste movement and Toronto’s Painters 11…

And so Lui was too advanced in one sense, his abstraction, like Canadian Kazuo Nakamura and Takao Tanabe’s, growing out of a knowledge and experience of Asian traditions in painting. Yet Lui resisted landscape abstraction so popular with Canadian painters, and kept a slight figurative, exotic sensitive aura to his approach. This is why he remained independent from, yet aware of, other Canadian abstract painters. Andrew Lui is different from the new generation of Chinese painters, who did not interface with abstraction as a movement in 1960s and 1970s North America and Europe. Recently, much renown has come from abroad, and he continues to exhibit in solo shows in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the United States.

Lui is anthologizing the instant, rendering an inner world poetically with a ritual sense of ink brush painting. Working on rice paper intuitively, his is a gestural, rumbling universe where there are hints of figuration amid the abstraction. And tendentious threads, the lines of more tentative brushwork that trail off into space, have a sensitivity that echoes the paintings of Arshile Gorky. This new body of work is like brief thoughts layered into the broader meditative build-up of colours into areas amid the white surrounding space. The rhythms of the body can be felt in Roaring Green (2011-13). Retreat (2011-13) is an axiomatic work that uses drip brush, as reflective as it is inherently structural, aware of compositional space even as it defies formal expression. With other works like Blue Snow (2013) with its image of a horse and Sensation October (2012-13), the sometimes turbulent, at other times quiet and searching visual rhythms are living, breathing abstraction at its best. The Purple Ride series (2013) of small-scale paintings are notational. What we see are depictions of horses in motion, brief visual close-up fragments that suggest they are part of a larger picture. Earlier paintings that combine ink and acrylic in the mix have an open, fluid immediacy. La Vie en Vert II and Duology, both from 2009, express more fragile, less resolved emotions with paint. They delight in the moment, and like Marino Marini, display a love of the ancient horse-human relationship that continues to our day. The sense of colour and movement in Opera I (2013) is multi-faceted like a mosaic.

As Arshile Gorky believed, the dignity of humanity can be upheld by the practise of painting. Like him, Andrew Lui believes this in the 21st century… As Andrew comments, “Since the Renaissance period, humanistic values have been advocated by both eastern and western aesthetics. These combine with the evolution of the post-Modernistic language, as well as the non-secular y subversive elements in the Ming-Qing paintings have provided unlimited rumination and struggle for my artistic creations.”

With this new series of paintings, Andrew Lui has moved through his painterly process to ultimately paint a narrative, a Pilgrim’s Progress through two worlds of abstraction, one of his youth in China, the other in the West. As these works prove, these two worlds hang together in a dialogue informed by both Asian and Western painting. Andrew Lui’s paintings reify the Roman poet Horace’s statement that, “a picture is a poem without words”.

Han Art Gallery, Montréal
November 7—December 7, 2013