Above : Orange Li with her paintings at Mana Contemporary (2020). Photo: Johnnie Grinder
Anyone looking at a painting can only see its forward-facing attributes — its lines and colors. From here, viewers can extrapolate deeper meanings using emotional intelligence to infer tone and theme. Only the artist, however, knows a painting’s true nature.
An important attribute in understanding any artist comes down to their relationship with their work’s inception, whether it faces inwards or outwards. Whether the artist creates for themselves or others. Whether they even truly know themselves. If they’ve tried.
Orange Li has tried. She might have even succeeded.
What I’ve always loved about Orange’s work - it’s so outwardly appealing that it almost distracts from its intricacy. Single forms are comprised of smaller ones, snaking, dancing, mingling in tight throngs. Each inch invites closer inspection.
Maybe it matches the person.
“Each of my works is a deep inner dialogue, like a conversation with another part of myself that I have met in memories, books, dreams and feelings,” Orange told me.
Maybe it matches the very state of personhood. She continued, “it becomes a reflection of not just my life but the life of anyone who looks into it. It becomes an image of the infinite possibilities. “
Rather than manipulating the facts, Orange paints directly from her immediate sensations. As such, she said, “The different emotions allow me to express both the sadness and happiness of life, and it helps me to understand the dualities of nature and somehow dissolve them into one.”
She maintains specific rituals to prime herself for receiving her true state’s wisdom. Orange told me that before she paints, “I organize my work area, make some ginseng or lingzhi tea, then sit quietly with my eyes closed for a few minutes, and focus on my breathing.”
Her description of the process itself felt almost athletic. “While I am painting I just go with the flow, and paint until I am ready to collapse,” she said.
Before concluding, Orange takes time to reflect with her partner in front of the piece. “When I finish a painting I hang it on the wall, then sit back and enjoy it,” she said. “[We] usually talk about the work and how it makes us feel and what it means to us. This process of soaking in the finished work allows me to somehow heal or recharge myself.”
Regardless of feeling or process, Orange firmly asserted that each of her pieces are equal before her eyes, that they have all been “difficult and joyous in their own ways.”
This ever-changing force that is her self guides the artist into uncharted territory. Elaborating on how long-term feelings can evolve into eras, Orange explained that “After experiencing some dark times with the pandemic this year, I completed a series of mythical-spirited animals.”
“This was a very big breakthrough for me, because I turned my research from the outer world of figurative objects and combined the abstract of the spiritual inner worlds into paintings. This allows me to have more space to freely travel back and forth between the two worlds.”
The central impetus for this series also arose from inside. “I was reflecting on a painting that was hanging in my home as a child. It was a painting that my grandfather bought and hung up in the living room. It was the word ‘dragon,’ in calligraphy. It had a big impact on me and it became a symbol of power, safety, and home to me.”
“When I finished the dragon,” Orange continued, “I wanted to continue with the four spirited animals from Asia. These four mythical creatures are also connected to the four elements. Those were incredible to work on because as I studied them and then began the painting process, I felt like they became a part of me in a sense, and I somehow became a part of them.”
While her rituals show that tuning into sensations is operative to creating from this place, the successful flow from feeling to form is ultimately a matter of acceptance — a willingness to live life as the true self rather than fussing over its definition. After painting the four spirited animals, Orange had a conversation with a friend which stuck in her mind. He’d mentioned one specific earlier work of hers.
“I grabbed the painting [he mentioned],” she explained, “and set it down next to the four spirited animals. Immediately when I saw the painting next to the others, it opened a door with a new idea, which led me on a journey to find the fifth element.” Such experiences drive her practice. “This is basically how my inspiration works,” Orange said. “One thing naturally leads me to the next. I just follow the clues that the world offers me.
For artists interested in engaging with their work in this fashion, Orange advises, “Make the artwork for yourself.” To do so, she says, “pour all of your heart and soul into each brushstroke.” One specific image helps her more than anything. “It is like I am sitting with the little Orange within me, and she accompanies me with every brushstroke as we explore buried memories and uncover new landscapes.”
Orange Li’s new work will be shown at
Fri, Oct 23, 2020 – Mon, Oct 26, 2020