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 Keran Li  (1907 - 1989)

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Lived/Active: China      Known for: modernist and traditional painting-figures in landscape

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BIOGRAPHY for Keran Li
1907 (Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China)
1989 (Beijing, China)


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modernist and traditional painting-figures in landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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From Jiangsu Province, China, Keran Li was an artist who combined an avant-garde thematic approach with traditional mediums and methods.  Using ink and watercolor and familiar scroll-like motifs with calligraphy, he markedly departed from the familiar academic treatment of humans awed and dwarfed in size by dramatic landscape vistas.  Instead Keran Li injected humor and interaction by placing awkward, clumsy-looking animal companions, such as water buffalo, and distracted, day-dreaming young cowboys in landscape vistas.  Often these subjects seemed only mildly impresssed with their natural surroundings because they were distracted by their own activities such as playing tug of war or looking at each other for responses rather than overwhelming mountainscapes.

For Li Keran, landscape and calligraphy painting was of interest from the time he was a teenager.  He enrolled in the Shanghai Art College in 1923, and there was much influenced by lectures he heard by Kang Youwei, who advocated learning from traditional Chinese art methods and emerging realism from Europe.  "Kangs's ideal of merging Eastern and Western art to create a new century in Chinese painting inspired Li greatly and became his lifelong pursuit."

In 1929, he went on to study as a graduate student at the Hangzhou National Art College.  His courses were in drawing and oil painting with Andre Claoudit, French teacher.  During this time, he began experimenting with German Expresssionism.  He also joined a leftist group, the Yiba Art Society, in 1932, and that same year had his first one-person exhibition.

Li's experimenting with figure painting in ink and wash and his innovative technique of splashed ink brought him much public attention after this initial solo exhibition.  During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), he began painting cowboy and water buffalo subjects, giving them a unique appearance with his innovative use of splashed ink.

In 1946, he was hired as a faculty member at the Beijing National Art College, and there his mentors were Qi Baishi and Huang Binhong.  Baishi later described Li as "the most important painter in the post-Qianlong-Jiaqing period."

After 1954, Li did a lot of sketching from nature, asserting that drawing was the necessary step to reform Chinese painting.  To traditional approaches, he added Western elements such a chiaroscuro.  In later years, he attracted many followers, who formed the "Li School" in the 1980s.  They revered him, not so much as a rebel but as an artist who blended new and old methods  of Chinese art.

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