Fang Lijun was born in Handan, in the Chinese province of Hebei, in 1963. In 1980, he enrolled in Ceramic Art Studies at Hebei University of Technology. After graduating, he worked at an advertising agency, painting posters. In 1985, he was admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing where he studied graphic printing. He graduated in 1989. Early pencil drawings emerged, always intertwining Asian and western perspectives. While still a student and a member of the »post-89-movement,« Lijun already participated in the exhibition »China Avantgarde« in the National Gallery in Beijing where his first oil paintings were shown. Study trips then took him to the Netherlands, to Norway, and to the USA.
Serial work and the dialogue between painting and graphic arts, as well as the cross-over adaptation of motifs in both genres, characterized Fang Lijun’s work after graduating. Since the late 1980s, the human figure, realistically rendered and positioned in space, has defined his work. His bald-headed, flesh-colored male figures, done in industrial paint, also emerged at that time. Influenced by photographs, these figures have meanwhile become a kind of trademark. »The early drawings and oil paintings still show human beings in the seclusion of rural communities, the figures seemingly locked in by traditional architecture and large walls. Around 1990, the pictorial space opens up,« a shift already indicated in Group One, No. 2 (1990, Gruppe Eins, Nr 2). »The figures are now clearly recognizable as city dwellers, appearing in front of coastal landscapes and, eventually, before the open scenery of sky and clouds« (Heinrich, in: Ausst.-Kat. Mahjong, 2006). Starting in 1993, they were also placed in front of dominating backgrounds of water. The figures, often shown from above, now turned into drifting or swimming shapes, fully enclosed by a smooth and mirror-like or slightly stirred water surface.
Fang Lijun has drawn on heterogeneous material: photographs, snapshots, pictures from films and advertisement, and motifs that might have been taken from Chinese folk art, from propaganda posters of the cultural revolution as well as from private photo collections. Detail-like citations, but also figures changed through shifted proportions or through their specific placing in rows, serve as a basis for the large formats. Figures are deformed, de-individualized, and positioned in a mass of shapes, as, for example, in the wood cut SARS from 2003. This wood cut condenses seven picture segments into »a mass that appears to be cloned« (ibid.), the figures now forming ornamental structures. In its matter-of-fact tone, Lijun’s decision not to use color in his black-and-white works and his choice of photographic perspectives or the choice of a detail still evoke his indebtedness to photography.
Fang Lijun’s move from Beijing to Dali in southern China was accompanied by a shift of his artistic intentions with their focus on painting and portrait. His monumental representations of figures – eventually also done in the loud colors of a society tied to advertising and leisure – had captured the individual in the ornament of the mass. This has given way to equally stylized nature motifs, based on traditional Chinese iconography. Lijun now also does representations of single figures in large format, for example, the iconographically loaded image of a newborn baby held by a huge hand, entitled 2001.1.15 (2001).
Fang Lijun first showed his works together with Liu Wei in privately organized exhibitions, starting in the early 1990s. In 1992, works of both artists were shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing. Exhibitions in galleries in France and in the Netherlands followed. As part of museum exhibitions, Lijun’s works were shown in Japan, in the USA, and in Europe, for example, at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1995), at the Japan Foundation Forum Tokyo (1996), at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1998), and at the Singapore Art Museum (2001). Lijun also participated in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and 1999. In 1993, The New York Times Magazine chose a picture by Lijun for its title page, considering him an exponent of a new generation of Chinese artists. Lijun’s works have often been associated with the »Cynical Realism« of Chinese contemporary art. Yet the artist has distanced himself from this critically debated phenomenon of contemporary art.
Fang Lijun lives and works in Beijing and Dali/China.
China Now, Kunst in Zeiten des Umbruchs: Ausst.-Kat. Sammlung Essl, Wien 2006
Smith, K.: Nine Lives. The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China. Zürich, 2006
Fibicher, B.; Frehner, M. (Hg.): Mahjong. Chinesische Gegenwartskunst aus der Sammlung Sigg. Ostfildern-Ruit, 2005
Fang Lijun: Fang Lijun. Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Hunan, 2001
China! Zeitgenössische Malerei: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Bonn, hg. v. D. Ronte, W. Smerling, E. Weiss, Köln 1996