Liao Guohe

Corruption Makes People Blush, Innocence Is Just Like A Dove, 2015
If the Chief’s Hands Are Clean, the Cow Can Only Produce a Half of Milk, 2014
Prosperity, Democracy, Civilization, Fairness, Justice and Rule of Law, 2015
Qian Yun Hui (Money Cloud Meet), 2014
Untitled (Car, Tunnel, Sycee), 2015
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Although painting proves far from obvious in the age of audiovisual stimulation and computer technology, this most “artistic” of media has increasingly regained acceptance, owing perhaps to its inherently anachronistic character. Chinese artist Liao Guohe, both a virtuoso and a “bad” painter, connects “China” as a contextual sounding board with an irreverent attitude towards its centuries-long painting tradition.

Guohe transports figuration, with its numerous sources and traditions, into a buoyant, silly and perverse painterly realm. His pictures are “painted drawings,” using simple imagery combined with sentences or words in Chinese characters, filled with savage satirical attacks on the political and social customs of today’s China. The urge to tell those stories and the instinct to draw or paint continuously keep each other in an unstable balance. His works bring the viewer to the edge of bare and violent vulgarity, which one sometimes—in a horrifying, unguarded moment—recognizes in oneself. The pictures’ scornful humour and apparent lack of dexterity incite enthusiasm. The visible urgency of their execution underscores his extreme and droll observations of the society in which he lives. His characters’ manifest protest speaks for and against them with startling savagery and revulsion. Yet, the works are never once cynical: their plain dumbness and primitiveness makes a case for sympathy for all.

The paintings derive an enormous visual impact and energy from a field of tension that exists between the historically inherited short circuit and constant interaction between painting-as-action and painting-as-narration. Though Liao Guohe’s works easily call to mind graffiti and cartoons, the artist vehemently rejects such comparison, favouring historical antecedents. Where classical Chinese painters often incorporated poems in their works, Guohe often writes his titles directly on the canvas, invoking the 13th-century artist-poet Zhao Mengfu who famously declared, “Calligraphy and painting are essentially the same thing.” With his fast “chicken-scratch” brushwork on unstretched canvases, mimicking working-class bad taste (inclusive their jest), he portrays and comments on a world that has no place for elegance and delicacy, but which is amoral, smutty and deranged. —PP