Andrew Lui : Timelines

            A philosopher once said, that when not questioned about time, he knew what it was, but when asked what was time, he did not. Looking at the languid paintings by Andrew Lui, a similar paradox arises. Are these fluid lines done in time, or are they beyond time, appearing and disappearing as if by some alchemy. In his decades long career, Lui has never strayed from the ethereal, ephemeral aesthetic that makes his works so appealing, yet they are forever evolving, changing in subtle, almost imperceptible ways. Evolution implies time, but not in Lui's art. There is evolution in every gesture, and each brushstroke is a new beginning, only to find its denouement at the point of departure. That place lies in the soul of the artist, and in Lui's case, it's a soul of impenetrable depth, and a repository of endless imagery. His calligraphic visual notations on precious paper are singular offerings, images that meander and undulate, shifting, transforming in front of our eyes, in an endless, silent procession.

            Lui's oeuvre is a never-ending storyboard, each painting a reference to the preceding one, and a harbinger of the next. Together they create a pantheon of forms and colours that are at the artist's beck and call. He conjures the shapes as if by some magic, where leaping horses emerge from a tangle of soft brushstrokes, and where oblique, sensuous forms hint at a female body. The sensual aspect of Lui's art is particularly noticeable in his latest works on display at Wallace Galleries in Calgary. Over 30 of his acrylic and ink on rice paper paintings are being showcased, and for those who are not familiar with his work, this exhibition should be an unforgettable experience. Even for someone well versed in his visual lexicon, these pieces are of an astounding maturity, and, particularly for this artist, audacity.

            Three distinct elements compose his works. First is the palette, colours at once rich and saturated, and impossibly translucent. The second are the shapes, created with fluid brushstrokes driven it seems more by breath than physical energy.  The third element in Lui's compositions is the negative space that is the intrinsic component of each painting. Great expanses of white paper are left untouched, yet touched by the colours and forms that swirl around them.

            Profound emotions are encapsulated in his compositions, released with great diplomacy and restraint, seeking an echo but never demanding a reaction. These light as a feather brushstrokes resemble caresses, and the comparison is not far fetched, as Lui uses magnificent ancient Chinese brushes of different thickness, imbued with a singular spirit that must drive his gestures to a large extent. Silky, soft and pliable, they impose a certain aesthetic that is perfectly synchronized with Lui's creative vision. Their equal partner, colour, plays a paramount role in each series of works, whether it's bright fuchsia and sky blue, or the artist's favourite sepia. It designates the mood, and to a certain extent, the composition itself.

            In Dishevelled Hair II, it moulds the shape of running horses, as they jostle for space, overlapping, morphing into abstract movement. Being Timeless as it is to Time I, II, and III series is a duet between differentforms resembling horses and riders, as they dance against a white, untouched background, appearing like invisible ink placed under light. Among these multifaceted compositions one finds works that speak in a distinct voice, their mystery for everyone to see, no explanation needed. Offering is one such piece. An acrylic and ink on rice paper mounted on board painting, it reaches out directly to the viewer; the barely-hinted at human form extending a hand with an offering, while seated on a splendid blue steed. And although any narrative in Lui's oeuvre seems redundant, here it adds another component to the composition, without ever sacrificing its sublime anima.

Dorota Kozinska