Liu Xintao

Erwin Panofsky said that in exploring meaning of a piece of artwork, one should first observe the discriminating signs on the work and then search the meaning behind it. According to Panofsky, meaning (or content) of a piece of artwork is not presented directly on the icon but hidden in its historic and cultural connotation. Art history shall therefore focus on searching what is hidden behind the icon with the help of the signs on the icon so as to reveal the real meaning of the work. In a sense, modern art still faces the issue posed by Panofsky, while icon becomes picture and imitation turns to be representation. The term representation has several connotations. It may mean a visual or tangible reproducing of someone or something or a rendering of subjective interpretation. After modernism, tangible reproducing is no longer used as a way of art producing. The reason lies not only in the developmental logic of artistic language but also in the fact that pictures reproduced with machines pushed out the function of art. Therefore representation evolves into recording subjective interpretation. Here again we come to Mr. Panofsky, but with different indication: an artwork is a product of the subject and a representation of the object through the subject; object does not exist in its own but in the eyes of the subject. Analyzing of representation-a media between the subject and the object-is a way getting into the object. While Liu Xintao's Despondent Night has neither obvious meaning nor superficial representation of contemporary culture, we can still feel the presentation of contemporary culture. Approaches of modernism such as form, expression and super-realism cannot be applied in explaining contemporary arts; the real representation is not the representation itself and there is a real object behind the representation

Despondent Night is a series of paintings. Since each painting has its own sub-title, the title itself doesn't directly indicate the content of the work. A concerted feature of the series work lies in its homochromy and irregular frame. Homochromy represents dark night and irregular frame might be a suggestion of despondence. Anomalous, sloppy and anxious brushwork forms the rim of the painting. While homochromy and irregular frame are the major visual configuration of the work and the foundation of Liu's drawing, they are certainly far less than the entire meaning to be expressed in the work. As we further observe the picture, we will find signs for the work. Searching the signs will help to explore the real sense of the painting. Signs can be classified into three groups. The first group is the rim. Here the rim doesn't meet the formal needs of a painting as wastes makes it disordered and disrupted and depiction for wastes discontinues, making it a transitional zone; wastes are illogically placed on the street and the street further stretches into the center of city; trim streets and buildings are flickering with shining lighting. Despondence, which is manifested in the disordered and disrupted rim vestured by darkness, sets off and contradicts to the extravagance behind it. Such distinct comparison signifies the difference between city and its outskirts as well as the price of the modernization process and modern civilization. While metropolitan wastes are byproducts of consumption, post-modern time embraces symbolic consumption and desire impulse as well as its collapse. Between symbol and desire there is nothing but endless anxiety. Therefore consumption leaves behind it not only wastes but also people brimmed with desire. In certain pictures there are brown lily placed on the dust-heap and magnolia on the drain cover, signifying a licking up of life by desire by an apposition of both withered beauty and filthy. From the pictures we can see that the artist brushed both wastes and buildings with sloppy brushwork, and that movement of his hand is driven by his personal experience, which means that the artist himself exists in the painting implicitly. However, picture composition of the work doesn't conform to the brushwork feature. No matter the artist referred to the photos or not, his picture composition seems to have embezzled from photos. A conflict between brushwork and picture composition indicates a conflict between human beings and the nature as well the relationship between the despondent subject and metropolis

The second group of signs is the figures in the paintings. Figures-whether those in the near or those far away-are significant to the paintings. But figures are only symbolic existence as well, for they have no specific profile or identity and these is no story extended as well. In a symbolic metropolitan space, they are like ghost disassociated with metropolis. The only story is the embracing couple, seeming to have overthrown the relationship inside the first group of signs. Figures constitute a dual theme of the work, and the first groups of signs are in fact imaged scene signifying despondence. If there is no such figures, a space replacement of the objective position between metropolitan landscape and wastes shall constitute a simple analogy of representation. Emergence of the figures changes such a relation with the figures become a symbol of subject and landscape becomes the object and result of subjective sense. Action of the figures or we may say the story implies that representation becomes the result of experience, although the figures are part of the representation as well. Naked upper-body of the man implies his identity-one who disobeys rules in city or who is abandoned by the city as he voluntarily casts away metropolitan rules. In such anxiety about metropolis, he/she seems to have no right of love. In the first group of signs there is brown lily placed on the dust-heap, possibly a prediction of such brimmed people's love. It is in such circumstance that the absurdity of the metropolitan landscape emerges, not as the existence of the object but as the target of human perception-just like that of a dream. Freud said, "Dream is a roundabout way used to evade from depression. It is one of the major instruments indirectly used by our soul that we are quite familiar with." (Freud, Dora an analysis of a case of hysteria). Love is not love itself but essentially people with desire and instinct. Collapse of love will witness dying out of human beings. The natural attribute and essential force of human beings collapses along with love in the materialized world. (In one of the pictures there is mating animals, indicating desperation about the nature of human beings.) The figures in the painting are dualistic. On the one hand, they stand for people living in the city. Under the pressure of consumerism human beings face the risk of materialization. As people are drifting in the metropolis, they have to face dying out of human nature despite the efforts they make to maintain it. Therefore they just struggle in the darkness between the landscape and wastes. On the other hand, people in love also manifest the nature of human beings. If their right of love is deprived, people will completely be materialized into an object in the modern society, and love will become a tool of interest, exchangeable commodity and victim of desire. Just as the painting indicates, being in love isn't a nice experience but suffering in the dark night-suffering that is hard to carry on or give up. Observing the painting series in an assembled way, we can see that the lovers are not on a fixed site-some in the middle of the road, some in the shady corner, some are blurry silhouette far away and some are right in front of the camera. In such a metropolis, there seems to be of no place for them, even in the dark night. Interestingly, most of the embracing couples are intentionally or accidentally placed near the advertisement light boxes. Placing love near the symbol of consumerism signifies love being disrupted by consumerism or people truckling towards consumerism

The third group of signs is car and rear view mirror. Without noticing the rear view mirror, the car itself might also be a sign of metropolitan life and consumerism, just like the advertisement light box near the lovers. Since rear view mirror is an accessory of car, if car bears certain metaphorical meaning, rear view mirror will be meaningless. The emergence of rear view mirror has two connotations, one being reflecting an embracing couple, the other being seeing one's lover through the rear view mirror. With the rear view mirror, the car doesn't simply stand for an objective category but a man viewing in the car, a third person not presented in the painting but still presented in the image. Who is the third person? If there is no such a third person, figures in the painting might be an autobiography of the artist himself and the image might just be a depiction of his personal understanding about metropolis. If so, figures in the painting are nothing but a substitution of the subject. More importantly, in depicting the personal experience of the subject, the object becomes an object of the subject, and the metropolitan landscape becomes the source of experience. Collapse in the subject leads to the illusiveness of the object, and representation of the metropolitan landscape also become rootless. We cannot clarify whether the figures in the painting stand for the real experience of the artist. But because of the existence of the third person, the subject in the painting is also objectified. An objectified subject is indeed a self-reflection of the subject itself. The third person, as a viewer, might be either a cleavage of the subject or a real viewer. The figures and landscape are, however, represented as an object. As for the artist, such a solution might be a skilled and unique picture composition. In the sense of representation, however, it is a record of the subjective interpretation. The unpresented viewer has certain assumed authenticity as he roams beyond time and space in the dark metropolitan night and witnesses everything in the painting-the landscape, the wastes and the figures. Particularly, presentation of scenes is just like an embezzlement of images and photographic picture composition makes everything unfurling in sensed reality, making the viewer authentic and sensible. Viewer can be either the assumed ego of the subject or people viewing the painting. The later subjects to the control of the former and witnesses the collapse of the dark night along with the former by taking subject interpretation as a real representation

Although we stressed that the theme of Despondent Night is the materialization of human beings and the lost of their subjectivity, the artist naturally harmonized such a contradiction-or in a sense a confrontation of nature and materialization. As for painting skill, the artist carried out a somewhat natural presentation. Such natural presentation comes from painting exercising and personal talent as well as experience of the artist-the metropolitan environment and visual experience. Although no novelty can be found in any part of the work, a combination of these two elements makes it a unique expression. Just like the viewer in the painting, what we see is just segments and partial reality. But expressed in his way, the artist delivered the reality behind representation. Otherwise it will only be a monochromatic expressionistic painting based on a metropolitan theme




Born in Xichang, Sichuan, China


Graduated From Sichuan Fine Art Academy with Bachelor Degree, Chongqing, China

Currently teaching at Leshan Fine Art Academy as Vice-Professor, Sichuan, China

Now working and living in Beijing and Leshan, China

Selcted Solo Exhibitions


Resplendent Clothing Walking in The Night, Wall Art Museum, Beijing, China


Collapse Night, PATA Gallery, Beijing, China


Collapse Night, Vanessa Art Link, Jakarta, Indonesia


The Face of City 1997-Liu Xintao Oil Painting Solo Exhibition in Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Selected Group Exhibitions


View • The Desire of The Other, Aimu Art Museum, Beijing, China


"Asia Hotel Art Fair 2013", Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong, China


"Art Taipei 2012", Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei, Taiwan

"Sociological Landscape - The First Suzhou Jinji Lake Biennale", Basel

Contemporary of Modern Art Museum, Suzhou, China

"The Body & Beyond - Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition International Tour (U.S. A.)", The Rouse Company Foundation Gallery at Howard Community College, Columbia, U.S.A.


"Basel Contemporary Art museum Collection - Opening Exhibition", Basel

Suzhou Contemporary of Modern Art Museum, Suzhou, China

"Spark - China Contemporary Art Invitational Exhibition", Dantang Today Art Museum, Xichang, China

"Sichuan Stream: Contemporary Art Docmentra", Blueroof Art Gallery, Chengdu, China

"Percorso - Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition (The second exhibition)", Sicily Gallery, Sicily, Italy

"Cityscape As Mirage - International Contemporary Art Exhibition", Yue Hu Art Museum, Shanghai, China


Beyond The Broken Skin, Soemo Fine Arts, Beijing, China

Pass Through, Bu Neituo City Museum, Italy

Red Hurricane-China Contemporary Art Exhibition, Twente Branch of National Museum, Enschede, Netherlands

Change History-China New Youth Art Invitation Exhibition, Beijing, China

What is Narrative-Contemporary Art Exhibition, A4 Art Gallery, Chengdu, China

Consumption of Images-Contemporary Art Exhibition, Age Art Museum, Beijing, China


Brave New World-Contemporary Chinese Art, Opus Gallery, British, Newcastle

Reflection-2009 Depth of New Art of Invitation Exhibition, West Lake Art Museum in Hangzhou, Wall Art Museum, Beijing, China

Night Journey-Contemporary Art Exhibition, Ren Art Center, Beijing, China

Blend-Contemporary Art Exhibition, QingHe Contemporary Art Museum, Nanjing, China

Experience • Stunning-Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition, Feng-feng Artistic Organization, Beijing,   China


Italian Bologna Fair, Bologna, Italy

Multi-dimensional Visual-China Contemporary 11 Artists Art Exhibition, Ni gallery, Beijing, China

Asian International Contemporary Art Exhibition, Hong Kong Exhibition Center, Hong Kong, China

China Contemporary Gallery Fine Art works Exhibition, ShenZhen GeFeng Contemporary Art Musemum,   Shenzhen, China

GO GAME, BEIJING-Contemporary Art Exhibition, German Embassy, Beijing, China

Virtual City-New Impetus of Contemporary Art Biennale, YuanGong Art Musemu, Shanghai, China

The Convergence And The Self-Sustaining-China Contemporary Art Exhibition, Zhuo Pu Arts Center,    Kaohsiung, Taiwan, China

The Painting and Sculpture of Digital Era-Contemporary Art Exhibition, KongGang 10 Artistic Organization, ChengDu, China

Frieze Art Fair, London, British

Art Beijing Art Fair, Beijing Agriculture Exhibition Hall, Beijing, China

People • History-20 Century Chinese Art Research Exhibition, the Ministry of Culture, the Central Academy of Fine Arts Musemu, Beijing, China

Reverse Flow-Contemporary Art Exhibition, Opus Gallery, London, British

2008 The First Southwest Strength of Contemporary Art Invitational Exhibition, Traveling exhibitions,     ShangHai, ShenZhen, Chengdu ,China

Future Skies-Chinese Contemporary Young Artists Nomination Exhibition, Today Art Museum, Beijing,  China


New Power•China-Artist Nomination Exhibition, ShangHai Art Museum, ShangHai, China

New Power China-Wuxi Artist Nomination & Invitation Exhibition, WuXi Museum, WuXi,China

Blue House For Three Years-Contemporary Art Exhibition, Blue House Art Center, Chengdu, China

Chengdu Contemporary Art-North America Touring Exhibitions, Edmonton Art Museum, Edmonton, Canada

Heard and Oral-The Third Guiyang of Art Biennale Exhibition, GuiYang Art Museum, GuiYang, China

1976-2006 From Local Modernity to the City Utopia, the Academic School of Painting Retrospective of the Sichuan, Foreign Cultural Exchange Center of Ministry of Culture, China International BoYi Art Gallery, BeiJing, China

Transparent Situation-YuanGong Contemporary Art Series of Events of Tibet, Tibet, China

Israel-China Contemporary Art Exhibition, Tel Aviv art Museum, Israel

The Asia Young Artists Promotion of Exhibition, ShangHai Art Fair, ShangHai, China


Bejing International Gallery Exposition, Beijing, China

New Power -China, Art Biennial Exhibition, YuanGong Art Musemu,Shanghai, China

Art Beijing Art Fair, Beijing, China

Mutual Connection, Vanessa Art Center, Beijing, China


Endless Fun, Yibo Gallery, Shanghai, China

Lu Yi Cup Competition, Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, ShenYang, China


The First Sichuan University Art Teacher Works Exhibition, Chengdu, China


Oil Paintings Exhibition of Sichuan Province, Chengdu, China

The Third China Oil Painting Exhibition, China Art museum, Beijing, China


The Second Session SiChuan Province of The Youth Art Exhibition, ChengDu, China


100 Artists Faces, Nanjing, China


The Nineties Popular Image Art Exhibition, YuanGong Hrt Museum, Shanghai, China


The Fifth China Contemporary Art Documentary Exhibition, Sichuan Fine Arts of Academy, Chongqing, China


Sichuan Fine Art Academy Oil Painting Exhibition, Hong Kong, China