Artist uses humor to reflect on uneven life

BIG-HEADED faces with squinty eyes are a trademark of Lin Hairong’s work. The characters are funny but at the same time classically refined. It may not be difficult to paint a comic character but doing it so elegantly is not easy.

Lin’s newest creations are being displayed at “IDOL — Lin Hairong 2017” in Longmen Art Project at 338 Nanjing Road W. until July 29.

The exhibition includes more than 20 paintings of varying sizes — from mini portraits to medium-sized and large 3-meter-long paintings.

Born in 1975 in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, Lin received her master of fine arts degree at Sichuan Fine Art Institute in 2006. But it was her love of literature, art, music and interest in personal items that influenced her work.

“That may explain the unique scenario in my paintings,” she says. “I refer to a lot of materials to create the background. It can be an old picture of my family, a scene that I read in a novel or even a song that I heard.”

The big-headed figures have had many shades and is a regular feature throughout her career. Even in her realistic works of Dali or Frida, she tends to make them look poetic and theatrical.

Lin is known for making graceful, well-balanced compositions that show her admiration for nature and all things classical.

The highlight of the exhibition is a daunting piece titled “Su Wu Tends the Sheep.” Based on a historical story, Su Wu was a Chinese diplomat and statesman in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). He was exiled to a remote area where he stayed for 19 years, tending sheep and refusing to surrender to his enemies.

In her work, Lin not only painted figures, but also worked out an impressive scene featuring snowy winter in a vast land.

“Su Wu has been admired for centuries for his patriotic spirit. However, in the eyes of most people today, the reason causing his 19-year exile was mere ethnical confrontation,” Lin says. “So I wanted to provide a deeper and broader vision for visitors to ponder over the history.”

In her paintings, the background usually creates an indistinct, hazy mood and neither the characters nor the objects have too much light or shadow, giving a sense of simplicity.

The artist uses gray to moderate contrasts and black, dull-red and dark-green to emphasize flat tones.

Lin says she has been trying to reduce the background and scene sets, and focus more on the facial expressions of people that give her paintings a quality of peace and indifference.

Wang Lin, an art critic and curator, says viewers can find “restraint, calmness and humor” in Lin’s works.

“Lin lives within her art, in other words, she lives in an alternate world.”

As Milan Kundera once said: “Looking into a lying, beautifying mirror so you can perceive yourself with thrill and satisfaction.”

Being a woman, Lin has a special way to perceive life. She indulges herself in an alienated reality, appreciating life with fantasy. Through the quaint, theatrical drama in her works, she can be seen subtly joking with the viewers.

Lin’s subjects often concentrate on doing something seemingly routine, and of little significance. The more serious and solemn they appear, the more ephemeral the drama.

Shen Qilan, a renowned post-1980s writer, curator and art critic, says, “Lin’s works contain a touch of gentleness and subtleness. She acts like an innocent and naive child who knows some big secret. She doesn’t want to expose the secret right away. Perhaps this is her way of compromise.”

Q: Why did you give the title “IDOL” for this exhibition?

A: Idol means worship, either for an individual or a group. In the written history of human culture, idols always seem to embody some mysterious power, persisting through the ages and fulfilling various emotional needs. Idols, in my artistic renderings, are like historical rays of light that reflects itself.

Q: The portrayal of people, whether real or not, is your favorite subject. Why are you so interested in people?

A: I like to observe people. If they interest me, I “translate” them into artwork. I have been trying to find a way to make them look authentic. I enjoy detecting the emotions of people and exploring a way to convey their silence, delight, sorrow and humor. The process gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction.

Q: Some critics say that you live in your dreams. Is that true?

A: I think I am the kind of person who keeps dreaming. Only on canvas can I conjure up what I can’t achieve in life. Philosopher Francis Bacon once said that “human beings prefer to be fooled by illusions — hence the success of theater.”

Q: In this exhibition, you have both large and small pieces. What’s your preference?

A: The content decides the size of my work. For interesting expressions or distinctive facial features, I like to do mini-sized work that can fully attract the attention of the viewers. The bigger ones are more likely to reflect a certain scenario and scene.

Q: You have done a self-portrait some years ago, and in this exhibition there is also another small one. What fascinates you about yourself?

A: When I painting others, I also want to mirror myself. I find my facial features look good on canvas.

Q: Your art is filled with humor, so are you a humorous person?

A: Humor, or the catering of an aesthetic taste, is what people admire most. But the definition would serve only those who know about you. I am sure for those who smile in front of my paintings, they must share something with what I feel.