When Li Wen Min arrived in Australia from Northern China in 2001 she was already an accomplished artist. She had trained at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, an institute renowned for stressing rigorous technique and tradition. While there Li elected to focus on Western painting – its history, style, and technique. Having grown up with a father widely acknowledged as Shenyang’s finest living calligraphy painter, Li, who also was interested in art, felt a new path of creative exploration was needed.
After graduating at the top of her class, Li sought to deepen her understanding of Western art tradition by living and studying in the West. She applied to study in Australia rather than North America because she says, “Australia was very welcoming”.
At UNSW Art & Design, Li studied under the supervision of Mike Esson, one of Australia’s most eminent figures working specifically in the world of drawing. Esson encouraged Li to consider a re-examination of her heritage from the newly acquired distance of her Sydney home. She did so by reading books about giant figures in Chinese brush stroke painting, Ba Da and Qi Baishi, and examining the things around her; the items that she owned and which made up her home, such as the kitchen sink, her desk, her clothesline, and a jar she used for flowers.
Utilising pen and paper and applying a Chinese folk art style, Li drew these items from different, and sometimes distorted, perspectives. A round table, upon which sits a jug of water, floats in the upper section of an ink-washed page. To the left, a white towel is hung from a rack. A tiny black door features in the lower section of the picture along with a white bird, both of which are surrounded by the upper bare branches of a tree. Li's drawings are characteristically delicate and stark, each visualised item bearing a detailed yet unknowable relationship to the others.
Li explains that soon after starting her postgraduate studies, “I started to realise that I liked space very, very much and then looked at Chinese traditional painting to see how they compose and how they use space; the ‘three different view points’, and so on. This multiple perspective in Chinese painting gives viewers a lot of freedom. You are not restricted to a fixed viewpoint… I looked at mark-making… and I looked at Paul Klee. I just used paper and worked intuitively… I wanted to break the boundaries of the techniques that I held so tightly.”
Her unique perspective and considered style found immediate popularity among gallery-goers in Sydney. Li has exhibited widely around Australia and internationally. She is currently represented by Sydney's Flinders Street Gallery, where in addition to solo shows she has had a joint exhibition with her father.
Li teaches painting and drawing at UNSW Art & Design.