I choose to paint in a representational style because I want to expand the traditional pedagogical and political use of images throughout history. When familiar objects become strange or unreasonable in my works, there is potential for the audience to recalibrate their understanding of the world.

Li Wang (he/him)

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I am a painter who is interested in the sense of absurdity and the spectacle of the mundane. My background in stage design informs the environments in my paintings. Therefore, canvases become stages and I, as the painter, become the director. The scenes are still, transient and irrational. I juxtapose anonymous male nude figures with representational objects in surrealist scenes. Through playing with the scale of the subject matters, and collaging photos I took from everyday life, I challenge the audience’s perception of the world. By breaking pictorial conventions and creating physically impossible space, I create a world in which the figures feel relaxed and free to be who they are without any predetermined goals or moral imperative. At the same time, in this strange world with familiar objects, the figures are lost and bemused. They do not know where they are and where to go.

By using different gestures of male bodies in my work, I expand the traditional concept of masculinity. In my works, these nude bodies are bathed in sexual innuendo, tension, and gay desire. They expose themselves or commit acts of kink (like biting underwear) while staring at the viewer and letting them into an aspect of secrecy. The figures in my paintings are beautiful, sexy, frail, effeminate, and sickly.

In recent series work, I always made myself as models for my painting. These nude figures not only indicate my thoughts about gender stereotypes but also show my mental condition. When I first came to New York City, everything for me was new, unknown, and sometimes scary. In this situation, I have to face the diverse cultural environment, overcome the language barrier, which deeply enhances my vulnerability, frailness, and loneliness. I often feel lost in this totally different world. Therefore, in my works, I put myself in surrealistic scenes—such as sitting inside a subway with a helmet, standing in front of the mirror. All of these strange compositions of figures with environments reveal a kind of strong uncomfortable, unstable psychological situation.

Li Wang (b. 1995) was born in Beijing, China. Li holds a Bachelor of Art from The Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, where he studied Stage Design. Li is a current Master of Fine Arts candidate at Columbia University School of the Arts. Li lives and works in New York. Prior to joining Columbia/ moving to the United States, Li worked in a wide range of fields including arts education research and set design for dramas and films. Upcoming projects include MFA First-year exhibition at Lenfest Center for the Arts, New York, NY; MFA Thesis Exhibition at the Wallach Gallery, New York, NY.