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Ying Li: Window on Italy

The exquisite scenery of southern Italy is the highlight of the newest art exhibit at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.

"Landscape Paintings from Italy and Beyond" is comprised of works by artist Ying Li, assistant professor of fine arts at Haverford, and runs from November 8-December 8, 2002. An opening reception will be held Friday, November 8, from 5-7 p.m., and the artist will present a gallery talk on Tuesday, November 19, at 4:15 p.m.

Grouped in three series, all of the paintings share a connection to nature. The first group features 30 paintings of the Italian landscape completed during Ying's summers as a visiting professor at the International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture in Umbria, Italy. Ying's studio was located at the top of the hill in the village of Montecastello di Vibio, providing her with a sweeping view of the valley below. "The place is so beautiful and romantic that you can't not paint it," she says. "It was liberating in terms of my work; it opened a new window for me."

Water is the focal point of the second series of works. As an artist-in-residence in Vermont three years ago, Ying turned her attention to the state's many springs, creeks, and streams, depicting her surroundings in a number of small paintings. The works shown in the exhibit are inspired by these earlier paintings but are presented on a much larger scale (some reach heights of six feet), offering a closer examination of patterns, colors and movements.

The third group includes Ying's more abstract representations of seashells and skulls. "I wanted to focus on solid objects, the opposite of the water paintings," she says. "But there's an underlying continuity, a timelessness about the subjects of all the paintings."

Previously, several paintings from all three series were displayed at the Painting Center and the Denise Bibro Gallery, both in New York, NY. Following the close of the Haverford exhibit, some of the works will be featured in the Heritage Foundation Museum in Norfolk, Va., the Arnold Museum in Emory, NY, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Born in Beijing, Ying experienced first-hand the political turmoil of China in the 1960s when her family was split apart by Chinese authorities. Her father, a college professor, was a specialist in Russian literature and had worked under the Gou Min Dong regime just prior to the country's turn to Communism. Like thousands of artists and scholars during China's infamous "Cultural Revolution," his activities were deemed elitist and a threat to China's socialist ideals. As punishment, he was sent to a forced labor camp and Ying, her sister and her mother were placed in separate re-education camps in the Chinese countryside where they lived and worked as peasants. It was here that Ying began to draw as a way to combat the bleakness surrounding her.

Her considerable talent earned her admission to Anhui Teachers University in Hefei, China, despite her family history. Here she painted only as she was instructed: in the style of social realism and on subjects that glorified socialism. She was trained to recreate exactly what she saw in front of her, with little room for interpretation, and was told that the artist was secondary to the paintings' subjects-the state.

The fall of the Gang of Four, which occurred just before Ying's graduation from college in 1977, allowed her a bit more creative freedom, but she continued to feel artistically stifled. In 1983 she came to the United States-leaving all of her old paintings behind-and enrolled in New York's Parsons School of Design, where she received her MFA in 1987. Finally, she was able to exhibit the passionate, fluid style for which she has become known. Her work has been displayed in galleries throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England and in such countries as Ireland, Taiwan, China, and Italy.

Originally posted at: http://www.haverford.edu/news/stories/28541/11