Not to be confused with the curator and critic of the same name, Lv Peng is a forty-four year old artist from Beijing. Last year, his works were shown in Hong Kong in an exhibition entitled ‘Empty City’; his current solo show is called ‘Empty Age.' Empty is clearly a compelling word for Lv. Asked recently for his definition of ‘Empty Age,' he wondered how Beijing would feel and what it would be like if it were suddenly to become empty and silent; despite the exhibition’s title, he says, ‘my works are filled with noise and vanity.' For Lv, this is a thought-provoking contrast.
The acrylic and ink paintings in this exhibition might be called ‘noisy’ in their compositions. Each frame contains a cacophony of figures that seem to fall into, and even through, the frame. At the outset, Lv’s imagery is visually confusing; such is the entanglement at times of bodies, additional objects and patterns, all on very different scales, that it can be difficult to decipher the picture as a whole or to arrive at something coherent based on its over and under-lapping components. As one walks around the exhibition, however, the eye grows accustomed to Lv Peng’s frantic, surreal vision. First to surface is the figure of a young boy with straight, bowl-cut hair. The rounded dark glasses – perhaps the most common feature of the paintings - that slip down his nose invariably reveal a surprised expression; his bulbous lips fall open in a way that shows surprise but is also slightly gormless. This has the effect of ‘slowing’ the composition, lessening its dynamism. Often the boy clutches at a stick with a nameless flag on the end. The meeting-point of hand and stick provides a visual anchor of sorts, for example in the painting Empty Age 2 (2010). Another recurrent motif is that of a mauve butterfly and, in the acrylic works, a stalk-like bird. Also repeated is the image of a topless, inelegant, bikini-clad girl seen from behind and with outstretched or raised-up arms. Thus, Lv’s complex arrangements reveal a visual vocabulary of sorts, though there is no clue as to what these inclusions might mean, or why they reappear.
The exhibition is effectively divided into two parts. Downstairs are ink paintings on textured paper, upstairs are acrylics. The ink paintings are incredibly detailed; beyond the primary figures – ‘foreground’ and ‘background’ are not a reliable terms relative to Lv’s work – miniature, aged landscape features are discernible. Also striking in the ink paintings are the patterned elements, for example harlequin checks, flower prints and traditional Chinese dragon designs, all of which are elegantly drawn. The paper has not been saturated with ink; its thread-like surface adds a compelling quality to the works, making them seem older - scuffed as if by age or chaos. Interesting too is the combination of this appeal and the unstated temporality of the figures and objects that float without context in the uncanny, dreamlike dimension of Lv’s creating. Upstairs, and though they remain skilled, the acrylic pieces are arguably not as successful. Lurid in colour with orange-skinned figures and a far starker contrast between light and dark tones – accentuated by perhaps too-strong spotlights - these highly-finished paintings appear somewhat flat in comparison with the inks. The feel of temporal disturbance or oblivion that is so effective feels lacking here; the quality is more cartoonish.
Lv’s visual language is certainly robust, and his aesthetic quite mature. Through imagery that incorporates elements of the traditional, consumerist, communist, surrealist, and humorous, his work offers an apt allegory of the ‘trauma’ of contemporary times. The paintings can feel a little repetitive; the way that Lv re-assembles certain motifs, albeit in different and inventive compositions, suggests a form of episodic narrative, but it seems this is not the case. Rather, these are the tools he finds appropriate to express the vacuous struggle in which humanity is embroiled. One might ask where the artist lies in relation to these complicated pictures; there is something unnerving in the degree to which he orchestrates fragments and figures, first trapping then throwing them about, entangling them together. Lv himself is not humble on this point, saying that ‘This does require a little cleverness.’ He is apparently unconcerned by the mess of contemporary life - it is but fodder for his frames.
-- Iona Whittaker
(All images courtesy of Dialogue Space and the artist.)