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Painting ’til Her Wrists Hurt

By Carol Brévart-Demm


Ying Li, Wintry Day, Wyoming Street, 2009

Whether in her native China, where she lived through the Cultural Revolution, or in studios in New York, Rome, or Philadelphia, Chinese artist Ying Li says she needs to paint, sometimes until her wrists hurt.

When Li’s father, a professor of Russian literature, was accused of being a counter-revolutionary, Li was sent away for five years of "re-education” through hard labor on a farm. Occasionally, she was called upon to produce propagandistic murals, using the art materials for her own paintings as well. She later obtained an art teacher’s diploma from Anhui Teachers University and, in 1983, left China to come to the United States.

During an evening lecture and slide show of her work in the Lang Performing Arts Center cinema in late January, Li, who is the 2010 Donald Jay Gordon Visiting Artist at Swarthmore and professor of fine arts and department chair at Haverford College, described her life in art. Speaking with vitality, excitement, and humor, her voice conveyed an unmistakeable sense of urgency, as if painting is essential to her survival.

Andrea Packard ’85, director of the College’s List Gallery, curated Ying Li: A Survey, which was on view in the gallery from Jan. 21 to Feb. 28. In an essay in the exhibition catalog, Packard wrote: “Ying Li’s densely layered canvases transcend her fascination with waterfronts, sea vessels, high vistas, and other scenic landscapes. She probes and animates the ordinary with a piquant palette and expressive brushwork. Her paint alternately flows, scumbles, clots, crackles, and slides across form and space. Strokes double back, dissolve, shimmy, and exclaim in concert with the dynamics of sustained observation. Synthesizing ancient traditions with fidelity to specificity of time and place, her paintings proclaim an intensity far surpassing their intimate scale.”

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