“[Tibet’s] lack of materialism and Buddhist rituals influenced my values and my art.”
Born Wuhan, Hubei, 1964
Liu Zhuoquan spent years mastering neihua, or “inside painting”. This Chinese folk art was used almost exclusively to decorate snuff bottles, but for him, that was far too limiting. He began collecting discarded bottles of all shapes and sizes, from perfume bottles to Coke bottles. Painting on their insides with fine, bent-handled brushes and dilute mineral colours, he “inserted” plants, animals, monsters, mountains, weapons, furniture. The bottles in his Object Series (2007) look like scientific specimen jars. Placing one or two items in each bottle isolates them but also allows them to be freely combined. For the artist the bottles are like words; together they “describe the world”.
With Seven Sparrows (2011), Liu Zhuoquan moved on to painting inside light globes. His seemingly caged sparrows, and the dead man in a bottle who represents the seventh “sparrow”, are a memorial to his late father, he says. A tailor by trade, Liu Senior was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Since he was no good at farming, he was assigned to chase sparrows off the crops—and failed at that task, too. The sight of him running about, futilely waving his long stick, “filled me with sadness”, the artist says. When his father died, his frail, shroud-wrapped corpse “reminded me of a dead bird”.
In Bottles and Babies (2011), Liu Zhuoquan painted deformed babies and foetuses, insects and surgical instruments, inside infants’ milk bottles. Why the fascination with bottles and glass? When the artist was twelve, he stepped on a sliver of broken glass. Unable to see it embedded in his foot, his parents thought his complaints were mere attention seeking. “It wasn’t removed for almost a year,” he says. “So I feel a very personal bond with glass.”