Born 1977, Calcutta, India. Lives and works in Changsha, Hunan
Liao Guohe paints “badly” in both senses: crudely and naughtily. Crude, however, does not mean artless. Liao Guohe’s slapdashery is deliberate and controlled. Like a cartoonist, he reduces each idea to a few essential lines, and maximises its punch by doing so. His brutally simplified imagery resonates more powerfully than that of many beautiful works. The same is true of his titles. Written directly on the canvas, they are integral to the composition. In this, he echoes the practice of the great Chinese landscape painters, who often incorporated poems in their works. The 13th-century artist-poet Zhao Mengfu famously declared that “calligraphy and painting are essentially the same thing”, and “painting” can be translated into Chinese as “writing a picture”. But it is a great leap from classical verses like “The sky is cold, red leaves are few,” or “The collected peach blossoms happen to enter my thoughts” to Liao Guohe’s “Fifth Round Thinking About Bananas and Their Rights: Tell a Smartass Chicken Joke to the Party”, “Chairman Who, If You Marry the Secretary of State’s Wife You Will Become Chairman Hu,” and “Drugs, Poisons, Good Living and the Secretary of State”. Liao Guohe’s titles work like graffiti or the captions of political cartoons. Together with his “chicken-scratch” brushwork and garish colours, they both portray and comment on a world that has no place for delicate feelings—a Brave New China that is venal, corrupt, obscene and borderline crazy.