It sounds like the setup to a bad joke:
A Chinese artist travels to the Texas-Mexico border amidst the current immigration crisis to paint portraits of local residents.
However, it’s not a joke, but the story of Beijing-based Liu Xiaodong and the works he created for his solo exhibition, Borders, at the Dallas Contemporary.
Hailing from a small industrial town in northeastern China’s Liaoning province,
Liu attended high school in Beijing before studying painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he has been a professor since 1994.
He is associated with the “New Generation”
of contemporary Chinese Realism: artists who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s,
at a time when Chinese art was caught between Socialist Realism,
a nationalistic movement dominated by glorified depictions of traditional communist ideals,
and postCultural Revolution contemporary-art influences.
Liu was also part of the throng of peaceful protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, during which hundreds (in some reports thousands) of civilian protesters were massacred by the Chinese government.
The incident left a lasting impression on the artist, and his career has since been fixated on capturing everyday people caught in the midst of potentially fraught situations.
Using a combination of videography, referential sketches, photographs, and en plein air painting,
Liu explores global problems such as environmental crises, economic and societal upheaval, and the treatment of minority populations.
Although his works encompass broad social issues, Liu focuses on his own accounts of moments at specific times and places;
his paintings are empathetic exercises in capturing slivers of contemporary existence.
“I only paint the world I see,” he explains. “I usually choose to depict ordinary people’s daily lives.
By describing the lives of all kinds of ordinary people,
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