The Joy of Connecting the West and East

Review on “Simple Pleasures: Li Jin with Roger Law”

Text by Joshua Gong

Starting 4 May, 2024, the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University will be presenting an exhibition entitled “Simple Pleasures: Li Jin with Roger Law“. This exhibition showcases the paintings of Li Jin, an artist whose works highlight the contemporary friendship between China and the West. The exhibition also features artworks by other notable artists such as Su Liupeng (1791-1862), Zhou Sicong (1939-1996), Zhu Xinjian (1953-2014), Roger Law, and Fang Lijun, which vividly portray the modern development of Chinese calligraphy and painting.

There are approximately 22 artworks by Li Jin currently on display at the Ashmolean Museum. These paintings were collected by British artist Roger Law and have been donated to the museum. Most of the pieces in the collection were created between the mid-1990s and 2010, a period which saw a rapid development of Chinese contemporary art. Roger Law, a renowned British painter with a passion for Chinese visual culture, learned about Li Jin’s art through an influential gallery in Australia. The two artists were introduced to each other and their friendship blossomed during China’s reform and opening-up period.



撰文 x 龔之允


2024年5月4日,《有情皆樂-李津與羅傑·勞 (Simple Pleasures:Li Jin with Roger Law) 》在牛津大學阿什莫林博物館開幕。本次展覽通過以藝術家李津的畫作為線索,向觀眾直觀地展示了一段連結中西的當代友情。此外,展覽還配套展出了蘇六朋(1791—1862),周思聰(1939~1996),朱新建(1953—2014),羅傑·勞(Roger Law),方力鈞的作品,全方位立體地展現了中國書畫的當代化發展。


Li Jin is a Chinese artist who mainly focuses on ink paintings. His paintings showcase the simple joys of everyday life of contemporary Chinese people. Li Jin drew inspiration from his own personal experiences and developed traditional Chinese genre paintings with the theme of people eating and drinking. Li Jin explored various aspects of ink painting on paper, such as ink, brushwork, composition, and perspective, to develop his unique style. His artworks directly express his innermost feelings, breaking away from the artificiality of traditional calligraphy and painting. Roger Law, a British artist who shares Li Jin’s love for food and drink, also creates paintings and porcelain pieces that resonate with Li Jin’s artwork. The two artists have a pure artistic friendship, which is evident in their illustrated letters to each other.



At the end of the 20th century, as globalisation accelerated, Chinese contemporary art gradually integrated into the world. This helped to challenge the Western-centric view of art and provided an alternative art appreciation system. The Ashmolean Museum has held a series of exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art, which were initiated by the late art historian Michael Sullivan (1916-2013). Professor Shelagh Vainker has continued Sullivan’s work, presenting visually stunning and intellectually thought-provoking exhibitions to viewers at the Chinese Painting Gallery in Ashmolean.

Dr Chen Yi is the guest curator of this exhibition. Based on the collection and gallery space, she conducted in-depth thinking and planning on the theme.

在20世紀末,在全球化加速發展的進程中,中國當代藝術也逐步融入世界,為去西方中心主義提供了一套完整的藝術案例和體系。阿什莫林博物館的系列中國當代藝術展覽,離不開已故藝術史家麥克蘇利文 (Michael Sullivan,1916-2013) 的倡議。馬熙樂教授 (Shelagh Vainker) 繼承了蘇利文的遺志,在阿什莫林的中國繪畫館,通過展覽實踐,向觀眾展示了一場又一場鮮活、生動又不失學術批判性的展覽。

陳誼博士 (Chen Yi) 為此次展覽的特邀策展人。她根據藏品與展廳的情況,對展覽主題進行了深入的思考與策劃。

Man and Dog (1998-2001) , Li Jin ©李津工作室 Lijin Studio

First of all, from a timeline, the exhibition aims to invite the audience to view the differences in the expression of interest in Chinese contemporary art by comparing Su Liupeng’s painting with Li Jin’s.

Su Liupeng was a well-known figure in the Lingnan painting circles during the Qing Dynasty. He gained fame for his genre paintings that depicted the life of ordinary people in the city. However, his painting in the exhibition still showcased the ideal scenes of talented scholars and beauties among traditional literati and officials. The painting’s scenery is well-proportioned, with landscapes (in the distance and on screens) and a study room. Although the talented scholars and beauties depicted in the paintings were happy, their behavior still conformed to traditional Confucian etiquette. In contrast, Li Jin’s paintings are more life-oriented, with the main subjects being the artist’s daily life, such as love between men and women and delicious food. Mr. Li Jin believes that traditional literati always have certain taboos that they are hesitant to touch upon while creating paintings. His paintings no longer use etiquette to mask emotions but pay more attention to the real experience of the moment.

In the words of the artist: “Contemporary experimental ink painting has several frameworks, which emphasise grand themes. But I am an outlier. I have no baggage. I hide in a hut and integrate into the hutong culture, eating, drinking, and painting.

By comparing ancient and modern times, the audience can understand the modern transformation of Chinese society and art.




Fish banquet, 2002 ©李津工作室 Lijin Studio

Secondly, based on the art form of Li Jin’s works and the space of the gallery, Dr Chen Yi made a symmetrical and hierarchical layout. The exhibition hall is divided into two floors: upper and lower. The upper floor displays the stylistic changes in Li Jin’s paintings, while the lower floor mainly displays Li Jin’s circle of friends. This staging method allows the audience to experience Chinese painting as a comprehensive visual presentation of art form and life.

The upper floor has three walls, and most of Li Jin’s works are arranged on the upper floor. They are designed symmetrically based on the creation era, style and content. Larger works are placed on the two side walls, while smaller works are placed on the middle wall, considering the viewing distance. Corresponding to the upper floor, there is a whole high-rise wall, suitable for hanging vertical scrolls and long scrolls. Opposite the high wall of the lower floor is a display cabinet, suitable for displaying some documents and small items.



Installation image of “Simple Pleasures” at the Ashmolean Museum

Li Jin’s paintings are very distinctive. They express the fluidity of the human body through experiments with ink media. For example, people swim freely and naked in a pond. One of Li Jin’s paintings (Nude Figure Diving) shows part of this liberty.

Mr Li Jin likes the feeling of being like a fish in water very much:”At that time, you could swim freely in Houhai Lake, Beijing. I often got a boat in Houhai and swam there myself, and sometimes I swam naked in the dead of night. This inspired me to express that kind of coherence in my paintings. It feels watery. This is a kind of providence. My name contains three points of water.



Nude figure diving, 2001 ©李津工作室 Lijin Studio


Li Jin, the artist, believes that his early works constantly added new elements. Initially, he only focused on painting and did not delve much into traditional poetry, calligraphy, and sealing. As he underwent physiological changes, his brush handling also evolved from tender to more sophisticated. As his understanding of life changed, he started to truly comprehend the mystery of calligraphy. The process of creation, addition, and subtraction through personal experience made his paintings more individual, spontaneous, and candid.

One of Dr Chen Yi’s favourite exhibits is Painting the Flowers from its Reflection. In the painting, a goose on the shore and a woman in the pond look at each other. This is different from the conventional themes of Wang Xizhi (the saint of calligraphy) with geese. From a critical perspective, it gives the audience an open interpretation without losing humour.

Chen Yi believes:”When I saw this painting, I felt it was completely subversive of tradition but also very interesting. It highlighted the artistic characteristics of Li Jin. The artist did not experience many complicated and snobbish social influences at the time, and the eyes he painted were direct and native.”




The Goose (2002), Li Jin

Another characteristic of Li Jin’s paintings is that they are completely improvised and do not make any presets.

The artist said:”I draw without sketches. I pick up the brush and follow along. You are still in a hazy state when you don’t touch the pen with the paper. Because you don’t know how to deal with the next few steps, the painting process is full of surprises.

The curators made full use of the characteristics of the exhibition wall to enhance the intimate interaction between the paintings and the audience.




Finally, the exhibition theme was strongly extended through the display of Li Jin’s circle of friends. Before Li Jin’s solo exhibition, the Chinese Painting Gallery held Fang Lijun’s solo exhibition, which retains the portrait of Li Jin painted by Fang Lijun. Although Fang Lijun and Li Jin have different artistic styles and approaches, their friendship remains strong. Chinese contemporary art has evolved from three major traditions and has undergone various changes throughout history. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, Chinese art is expected to continue to produce exciting performances. Even though the solo exhibitions of Li Jin and Fang Lijun differ in their presentation methods, their artistic spirit is well connected. In contemporary times, artists have broken free from the limitations of a single culture and have focused on individuality. This has led to a diverse and colourful range of artistic expressions. However, art still manages to convey universal human emotions and brings people closer together by fostering individual interaction.

The exhibition fully demonstrated the artist’s artistic characteristics and social charm. It is hoped that this exhibition will invite more viewers to appreciate Chinese art, bridge the cultural gap, and facilitate cultural exchanges between China and the West.



Li Jin and Roger Law at Ashmolean Museum


Simple Pleasures:Li Jin with Roger Law
4 May – 17 Nov 2024
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


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