Amelie Gallery
Exile in Existence-
Liu RuiZhao's Paintings

Curator: Tony Chang

Oil painter Liu Ruizhao captures bizarre life moments in dramatic lighting. Dressed in ridiculous casual night-suits, the tedious life routines of his characters are dramatized and mystified. Their adolescence, hidden safely in the darkness, is suddenly exposed. Gazing out at the viewer, they are shocked and dumfounded. Liu has magic in his visual imagination, making up his own narrative scenarios, always mysteriously alluring.

Liu Ruizhao sets his sights on investigating human beings rather than focusing on social issues. In his works, sharp and strong lights emphasize the major figures while details are hidden in the shadows. This way of using lighting strengthens the formation of the whole picture and weakens any distraction from the details. The action of the body is frozen, reflecting a sense of ceremony. In his early works, there are strong symbolic meanings, revealing the loneliness of individuals and their inside eagerness for hope in life. His recent works have a much more solemn sense of mystery. The once sensible symbolism is replaced by vagueness. His paintings reduce the marks of any particular point in time while they enhance a dramatic power which is lasting and deep. Some of his works remind us of the old classical paintings of past centuries, but their spirit is contemporary and intense.

Adolescents were a common theme for Balthus, who was known for paintings of equivocal figures, very young women in poses or situations that were regarded as enigmatic or suggestive or both. Often these subjects were caught between dreams and waking. Liu's adolescents are quiet in their daydreaming and more mysterious.

For Liu, artworks are the artists' broken limbs cut from their bodies. As an independent language, painting is unspeakable and hard to explain. He thinks all his works carry the weight of our times and human spirits, and that the quality of each painting should match its significance. Liu values the meaning of his paintings rather than simply showing off his techniques. Metaphysically, his works demonstrate his ambition in building up his own universe.

His drawing procedure is a tough struggle between anxiety and depression, accompanied by insomnia and nervous thought. He revises his works again and again on the canvas; numerous layers of drafts are hidden under the final painting.

Liu regards himself as a spectator of reality, getting involved but staying independent. His vision and commitments to his art are invaluable against today's superficial social atmosphere.


A sense of drifting apart which is flashy, dislocated and twisted has been grabbing and swallowing me these years. Like an insect crawling on sensitive skin, the feeling is uncomfortable though fading away quickly.

In today's society, I feel increasingly lonely. A sense of escaping is becoming strong and intense. I am pessimistic but haven't given up the hope of living. Absurd ideas and situations come up continuously, sometimes like walking beside abyss, sometimes ludicrous. Realizing these ideas on my canvases, I don't have particular comments. I record those ideas in my works, purely recording and not intentionally expressing anything. They reflect my whole life and thoughts.
-By Liu RuiZhao


Liu RuiZhao has his own language and thoughts in his works. On seeing his works for the first time, Balthus is the name appearing in my mind. Liu maintains the humor and atmosphere from everyday life. Where does the sense of mystery in his paintings come from? His lighting is not like lights on Rembrandt's works, which is mysterious, holy and purified. Lights on Liu works are sudden and unexpected, keeping surprises and interests from daily life.

The first impression of Liu RuiZhao's works is mature and has its styles, eye-catching and distinctive. You can feel the influence by Chinese traditional culture on his works. With contemporary relevance, the paintings are nostalgic. From composition, shape, color to lights, his works are expressive like on a stage. The figures' narrow and long eyes and dark eyeballs speak out a sense of mystery and horror.

-Collector' s Comment

Liu Ruizhao: Cross-sections of the Human Spirit under a Flash of Light
Excerpted from his interview with HiArt Magazine,
Apirl, 2008

Hi: Your works are mostly set in confined or dark settings with heavy colors and an air of mystery. What is your driving theme?
The human spirit is a deep, dark space. In my works, I record all kinds of ideas that come to me. I just record them; I don't set out to express anything. That's because these settings cover all of my life and my thoughts.

Hi: Is your own spirit embodied in these works?
I'm still young, and I hope that I can be "confident" and "mindful". But this requires a lot of time and effort. I am erecting a framework, but I don't know what the end result will be. I must constantly repeat, knock down and rebuild. I pour my spirit into my painting, using paintings to record my process, just like writing a diary.

Hi: I've heard that your works often go through an abnormal amount of revisions. Why is that?
I've been thinking about this myself, and I've come up with two answers. The first has to do with painting. If you want to transmit a certain perception, you must make it concrete, bring it into the picture. Painting is not conception, it is production. I have no intention of discussing the difference between "concepts" and "ideas"; this is something that is very difficult to quantify. But pictures can be evaluated by their quality. I care a great deal about this, just like a poet who carefully crafts his sentences. My spirit requires the corresponding picture quality to be transmitted. The other reason is more personal. As I just mentioned, my paintings are my diary. Think about it. If someone writes his diary every day, but never changes the page, all he can do is stack it on top of itself.

Hi: The people in your works are often adorned in a very simple manner. What is the thinking behind that?
A few years ago, I came across a problem in my painting. Consider that someone is really lonely, and he wants to document that loneliness in his painting. A very practical problem emerges immediately: what clothes should I wear to be lonely? A suit? That doesn't work, but you have to wear something. This problem bugged me for a long time. In fact, it's not just limited to clothing. Lighting, perspective and environment must all be well defined. Later, I figured out that there's no essential difference between the "loneliness" of the Middle Ages and the "loneliness" we encounter today. I am very subjective about the setting, perspective and lighting in my paintings, and I make my image structures complex to be in accord with the person's mental state. As for clothing, I make it as simple as possible to try to dilute the temporal element.

Hi: I'm very curious about the flashes of light in your works. They create a kind of stage effect.
That's because the image is like a drama. The director must tell the audience what they should and shouldn't watch, and adding a ray of light is a very effective method for that. But that's only part of it. In my paintings, the dark spots, the places not illuminated by light, are just as important, holding a lot of the information I want to transmit. I don't want to make the picture overly simple, but I don't like overly decorative or aggressive works. I think that each painting should have two layers of meaning: the first is to use the appropriate methods to make it so your own spirit is embodied in the painting and the second is the actual production of the painting - it cannot look like a decorative object or a printed product; it must have the power of painting.

Hi: The spirit of your works is contemporary, but the names of your works draw from ancient classical Chinese, as with Yao Yao and Hui Hui . Why is that?
The diction of ancient Chinese language is very succinct and refined, with very subtle structuring between the semantic and phonetic aspects. Today's Chinese language just can't attain that. Also, these words have mostly fallen out of use in everyday life today, so they're quite difficult to understand. I don't want to use artwork titles to attract the viewer's attention. I want them to pay more attention to the picture. For instance, with Hui Hui Tu, Hui Hui means something small that glows, and alludes to the glowing objects in the girl's hand and on the rug. Yao Yao is an ancient Chinese term to describe feminine charm. The titles are descriptive explanations devoid of personal sentiment.

Liu's Artworks