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Yujie Li

memory I have always focused on psychology in my work. One of my favorite books is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. From that book, I realized there are a lot of personal feelings that you can only understand by observing people close to you, like your parents, friends, or partners. I am the type of person who often ignores their emotions, but I began observing my friends and how they dealt with difficult experiences.

I share sad emotions in my paintings. When you’re crying (2023) and When I’m listening (2023) were made at a time when I parted ways with my friends, since they were moving to different countries and following new paths. I began to think of other moments of loss, such as death, and grief. I think that recognizing and acknowledging those difficult emotions is important, and I want to bring people’s attention to those feelings through my work.

I like to notice what is overlooked. For example, listening might be seen as less important than speaking, or you might not think very much about air, but it is vital for life. My work looks at opposing forces, such as what is seen as important versus ignored, heavy versus light, or bright versus dark. 

lines My creations are typically based on ideas from books or my emotional experiences in life. I will focus on particular shapes or pick up on tiny details I read in books. Sometimes, I like to write. I don’t like to have very specific images in my mind when I work, so rather than sketching, I will write and describe my feelings. When I draw, I like to be open and rely on intuition. I just have ideas, words, or emotions in my mind and I am describing those ideas visually.

My visual inspirations are Mohammed Sami, Mamma Andersson, and Paula Rego. Mohammed Sami comes from a country affected by war, but his paintings express trauma differently. One of his works depicts bombs, but they can also be seen as fireworks. I like that he is showing this subject matter from different angles. I enjoy the weird people and creatures in Paula Rego’s paintings. Mamma Andersson lives in Northern Europe and her paintings have a quiet and lonely quality. I love that sense of distance from the world. 

colors I use blue, white, and green colors to convey a sense of emotional distance from the world.

I think my paintings are representational because I do reference real life. In When you’re crying, I wanted to create the image of a person crying in the bathroom. There is a shower head, peering from behind the water, like eyes, and marks in the foreground that depict heavy tears streaming down. They are not just random lines–they do follow the logic of representing tears. But since the intimate space of the shower is often a place for introspection, I wanted to reimagine that space and make it look different from reality. 

In When I’m listening, the floating shapes come from meat. I was observing the marbling in pork, and I thought those shapes were so interesting. Even though the shapes come from meat and physical objects, I represent them differently and give them new meanings. The layers of shapes in this painting represent thoughts impressed in and floating around in your mind. I wouldn’t consider these abstract paintings.

I show vulnerable moments and negative feelings in my paintings, but my work is also about positivity. I gain a lot of inspiration from my family since they are always happy. I used to feel pressure to face everything positively, but art has expanded my views and allowed me to face my negative emotions. I think we need to be introspective to become better people. When you experience negative emotions, it is important to be able to turn the darkness into light and learn from your experiences. It makes you more powerful to help other people. I want to see if my viewers can see themselves and understand themselves better through my work. 
When I’m Listening, 2023
When You’re Crying, 2023

Images courtesy of the artist. 
Yujie Li (b. 1998) is an artist based in Guangzhou, China. She received a BA in Chinese Painting from The Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2020 and an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in 2023. 

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