Li-lan’s paintings of the past decade have been the results of a subtle process of distillation. Here, space and time are compressed until they are nearly imperceptible. The letters and postcards which Li-lan paints are static and insistently flat. They exist only within the immediacy of the artist’s close-ups. Yet, the stamps and postmarks which recur in her work also bear evocative traces of other moments and other places. They are mementos of the lapse between past and present and of the distance between far and near.
With her latest series of paintings, Li-lan has opened up these coordinates so they are more fully in view. She has now introduced pictorial images derived from the “face” of postcards, juxtaposing them with the graphic side designed for messages and stamps. These images – all of them architectural – bring into play the three-dimensional against the two-dimensional. With their heightened sense of spatial tension, Li-lan’s paintings seem to hover ambiguously between surface and depth. One the one hand, she works her canvases over and over again, highlighting the intricate transition between tonal values and paint layers. On the other, she conjures up complex illusionistic effects through intriguing perspectives. In this way, Li-lan’s paintings seem to prompt our imaginary entry into exotic and faraway locales and at the same time pull us back.
The specific architectural imagery chosen by Li-lan adds to these ambiguities. The gates, archways, and corridors pictured here are all points of transition, which lead from one space into another. Like the letters and postcards which have so long been the focus of Li-lan’s paintings, these motifs delineate the experience of passage – between different spaces, different geographies, and different cultures. Li-lan’s paintings function as a physical and emotional map of these thresholds. While defining their boundaries, Li-lan also leaves us suspended in that fluid space somewhere between surface and depth, between here and there.
Alice Yang (1961-1997) was Curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and former Assistant Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. As a critic and curator, she wrote widely on contemporary art, with special attention to Asian and Asian American art.