The Fantastic Cavalcade
Although familiar with art and Eastern thought, I found meeting him unsettling. At the age of twenty-seven, he already had several lives lodged within him, buried like archeological strata, riddled with fissures, the near future pressing in: the secret childhood, the Cultural Revolution with Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book,” an apprenticeship in capitalism amid the mercantile maelstrom of Hong Kong, the discovery of contemporary art at the Ontario College of Art (Toronto, 1972), then the revelation of Italy, whose language he learned and whose culture he voraciously absorbed starting from the Renaissance. He ended up in Montreal in 1977, Chinese by birth, Canadian by adoption, Italian by predilection, a Montrealer by choice, an artist endowed with a dual classical training: master of the woodcut (“I am a printmaker,” as he put it); aspiring painter in the Western medium of oil on canvas,1 well disposed to shine in the Neo-expressionism that held sway, at odds with purely formalist art that aims to say nothing.
At the crossroads of cultures and civilizations, endowed with a phenomenal faculty of assimilation, Andrew had a great deal to say, but in the early 1980s, he was still looking for his voice. He was also looking for his career path, as an artistic globetrotter faced with the need to earn a living, self-employed, aided by some Good Samaritans he met along the way. He successfully founded the Han Art Gallery, unique, global, with international ramifications. Once it had attained a certain stability, he delegated its management (while for the joy of it still overseeing the works of the greats he admires – Picasso, Riopelle, de Kooning, Bacon, Jack Bush) and could at last devote his time primarily to fulfilling his work as a painter.
Unsurprisingly, he made his mark around 2006, when appropriate materials gave his painting its own signature: rice paper, fluid ink and acrylic underpin a gesture of calligraphic assurance. Calligraphy not by analogy, as André Malraux understood it in regard to that “Western calligrapher” Georges Mathieu, but in the Eastern sense of a true signifying sign, in which painting and poetry are inseparable. Andrew Lui professes the greatest respect for writing, poetry, culture and those who engage in them. His gallery produces luxurious books and catalogues for its artists.
The material means of his art served the emergence of his personal myth, which blends obsessive themes and metaphors: Time, duration, death; progression, travel, pilgrimage; the horsewoman, abducted Sabine or Amazon warrior; Destiny, Space, flight or crusade. His awareness of complexity prevailed in the interweaving of rebellious threads on the loom of life: Woven Love, Woven Journey. One archetype common to all civilizations reigns over these themes and their images: the Horse, powerful, fleet and elegant, loyal but free. About 2009, it swept into the space of the painting, occupying the world of the imagination in every sense of the word, a beast of burden at times burdened with the weight of existence, or a winged horse on the “wings of desire.”
The wide-format Equestriennes II is intriguing for its title and the incursion of collaged Chinese writing into the plane. The feminine form of the noun “equestrian” (from equus, Latin for horse), “equestrienne” combines “woman” and “horse.” Two horsewomen are suggested in dark tones, into which vertical lines of text/textile have found their way. They are clippings from a farmer’s almanac: a calendar (measure of Time) dedicated to the cultivation of the earth, which is regulated by the heavenly bodies, the moon in particular (lunar calendar), just like a woman’s periods and the nine lunar months of pregnancy. Obscure layers of personal meaning show through between the lines. With Farewell My Concubine, the slender strokes and surrounding empty space attenuate the dramatic intensity.
In a lighter vein, the square-format Rainbow Journey, among many others in the three “Pilgrim Progress” series, exemplifies Andrew Lui’s art of the past ten years. Colour takes possession of the surface: ultramarine, magenta and imperial yellow on caparisoned chests completed by allusive fragments (dilated nostrils, pointed ears, hooves in the air) multiplied ad libitum by varying orientations in an apparently kinetic unfurling. The black lines of a calligraphic flourish indicate the action; grey lines penetrated by the “flying white” void of a dry, wide brush emphasize the speed of the motion – that of both the suggested object (horse) and the acting subject (painter).
The painting’s subject and object unite in perfect symbiosis, the fiery energy of the one and the excited pulse of the other, when they do not seek each other out in the melancholy depths of the “blues.” Emotion, sensation, feeling, energy, tension, the instantaneous record of life’s experience are concentrated in a chemical – and alchemical – pictorial precipitate that deposits the essence of art onto the support. Abstract and figurative, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern art intermingle beyond ideologies and studio manifestos. The transmutation of visual into aesthetic takes place by way of a supplement of spirit that gives the artwork its perennial quality.
1. See Monique Brunet-Weinmann, “La fuite créatrice d’Andrew Lui,” Vie des Arts, vol. 24, no. 95 (Summer 1979), pp. 43-45. Available on-line: http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/54735ac (consulted April 1, 2016).
Rainbow Journey, from the series “Pilgrim Progress III,” 2009, acrylic and ink on rice paper, 65 x 65 cm
Equestriennes II, 2011, 96 x 175 cm, acrylic and ink on rice paper mounted on wood
Farewell My Concubine I, 2015, 105 x 120 cm, acrylic and ink on rice paper mounted on wood