“You Fascinate Me!” is thematically sectioned in three parts, “All That Grandeur,” “All That Romance” and “All That Radiance.” Huai noted that the exhibit exemplifies, in part, her love for travel.
“Going places and seeing things is stimulating, intimidating and rewarding, whenever one does it,” she said. “Traveling makes me aware and forces me to learn on various meaningful, complicated and playful levels. The mechanisms of connection, disconnection, reflection and reconfirmation are intensely intimate and fascinating. Wandering around recharges my world and makes me want more.”
Huai also described “You Fascinate Me!” as reminiscent of her “tender spot for painting, drawing and doodling,” that circles back to her ominous and restrictive childhood in China. With Mao Tse-Tung’s cultural revolution serving as the backdrop of Huai’s early years, the grey man – as Huai referred to the brutal dictator – closed all schools and rampaged his people. Forced to stay indoors because of the chronic danger lurking outside, Huai passed the time by drawing.
“As a kid with nothing to do – it was so very cruel. I doodled and drew the Cultural Revolutionary-themed comic books that my mother gave me,” she said. “I fell in love with art, even though I intended to study physics. But with nothing to do but draw, art became my passion.”
By the time Huai could attend college, she received her BA in filmmaking from the Beijing Film Academy. The petite dynamo arrived in the U.S. in 1983 at age 27, with her husband, Paul Pickowicz, a professor at UCSD. America electrified the Chinese native to a world of art that was “so much more than I ever imagined possible.” Changing direction, Huai received her MFA in Art at the California Institute of the Arts. Today, Huai is a faculty member of the Visual Arts Department at UCSD.
Huai’s training as a filmmaker intensified her interest to manipulate and interchange art images for “multiple interpretations of visual elements.” “You Fascinate Me!” follows accordingly, constructing and manipulating a myriad of substances that challenge preconceived notions of Huai’s audience. “In this exhibition, I manipulate and interchange specific forms, symbols, repetitions, and positions to challenge the preconceptions of viewers,” she said. “I want people to experience my art. ‘You Fascinate Me!’ uses sections to attract and seduce viewers. First you see something visually beautiful that lends itself to a certain kind of integrity. After you’ve been seduced, you want to know more. That’s how ‘You Fascinate Me!’ relates to the viewers.”
Huai described “All That Grandeur” as Chinese ink on paper. Landscape compositions are composed with Chinese traditional brush painting. Everyone “literally” walks through the painting’s trees and mountains.
“You’re in and out of space that’s familiar and exotic,” she said. “It’s confusing, seductive and beautiful.”
“All That Romance” uses acrylic, oil paint and Chinese ink that echoes “All That Grandeur.” Huai describes it as an emotional, intellectual and reflective experience.
“You see what you want to see or what you like to see,” she said. “‘All That Romance’ is your own relationship and interpretation of experiencing different places, people, language, food, culture, history, so on and so forth.”
“All That Radiance” is about the revelation of one moment. Huai reflected back to her art history studies to “understand the details of composing religious icons on wood panels.
“I studied historical documents to learn how to construct wood panels, glue, and prime the surface; as well as gold-leafing (24 karat) and oil painting wood,” she said. “I studied every detailed process down to scale. I was triggered by my early education, learning so much but not enough. Physically working the panel series took me much longer than I wanted or expected it to. The process and motion of labor was painfully tedious but necessary. By the time I had finished, I had an incredibly beautiful labor of love filled with radiance.
“The pieces of Li Huai’s solo exhibition, ‘You Fascinate Me!,’ represent an exciting period of her work,” said Sonya Sparks, owner and curator of Sparks Gallery. “The artist masterfully revisits the visual vocabulary of her early works alongside an intimate meditation on her own art by way of age-old techniques. Huai’s traditionally crafted works also feature a contemporary visual twist, combining old and new for an elegant balance.”
Huai is adamant about sharing her artistic ideas. Her specialties include installation art, painting, drawing, multi-media, and Chinese calligraphy. Inspired by life, people, books, and “conversations with everyone,” Huai said that “all departures from art are trigger points for art.” Critics describe Huai’s work as "fascinating, bold, adventurous,” and a “risky visual catharsis that’s wonderful with vivid explorations of color and form."
“Li Huai is an internationally recognized artist, collected by museums, with an impressive list of major one-person exhibitions in galleries and institutions across the globe,” continued Sparks. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate to local collectors that they need not venture far to encounter world-class talent.
“I have only wonderful things to say about Sparks Gallery,” concluded Huai. “Sonya’s dedication to provide a platform for artists and her contribution to the community is a win-win situation for everyone. The community needs the art and artists are introduced to the community. Art is such a big part of our daily life. Sonya Sparks and Sparks Gallery gives tribute to the artists, the community and the city of San Diego.”
Huai touts an impressive list of local, national and international exhibitions and solo-artist shows. Local listings include San Diego’s Spark’s Gallery, San Diego Art Institute, the Spectrum Gallery at the California Institute of the Arts, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Other domestic two Los Angeles venues are the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Chinese American Museum plus Tulane University’s Carroll Gallery.
International venues include Singapore – The Arts House, The Substation Gallery, Hong Kong City’s University Gallery, Edinburgh University’s Matthew Architecture Gallery, the Tijuana Cultural Museum, the Centre Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, the Third Chengdu Biennale (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chengdu in China and the Biennale Disegno Rimini in Italy.
For more information on Li Haui, visit sparksgallery.com/ product-category/artist/li-huai.