Li-lan: An Unknown Melody by The Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation

Li-lan: An Unknown Melody
The Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation
Late Twentieth Century Art

P 78 04
An Unkown Melody 1978

Delicate, precise, mysterious.  These are some of the first words that come to mind when looking at this painting by Li-lan.

Her paintings were not always sparse.  In the early 1970s they included recurring themes, such as nails eggs, and figures.  But, as she says, the figures got smaller and smaller and the nails that held up her pieces of paper fell down and disappeared.  By eliminating such imagery, Li-lan opened her works even more to the personal interpretation.  The viewer – especially in this work – is left absolutely free to imagine any sort of fantasy.  Perhaps a completely blank sheet of paper is threatening to some people because of the very qualities – openness and cleanliness – that others find reassuring or enlightening.  A page completely untouched, as both are in this painting, presents an incredible frankness and boldness.

Li-lan does not consider herself a realist, for she is not copying note pads, music scores or notebook paper.  As a matter of fact, she does not work from a preliminary drawing but accomplishes the work directly on the canvas.  She wants the surface to be just as clean and pristine as the paper, and thus she sands the surface as each layer of paint – sometimes up to five – dries.

Li-lan’s personal remarks about her paintings are as sparse and compact as her painted images:

Empty pads, empty books have become larger than life-size – as have blank sheets of paper, sometimes torn from their spirals, sometimes ripped or folded.  These are the images that surround me, images that are fragments of my daily life, images in my mind.  Pages still without words, music scores still without notes, canvas not yet painted on, waiting in their blankness, for me.  Their timeless, pristine presence stirs the memories of yesterday, the wonder of today, and the unknown tomorrow.  They stir anticipation, desire, and my need for painterly expression.