Li Tianbing - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 27, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Kashya Hildebrand, Zurich

  • Catalogue Essay

    Tianbing Li’s portraits might indicate an interior life of nostalgic chimeras; in reality, their delicately constructed surfaces are predicated upon pressing global issues. The artist’s oeuvre often conjures up wistful figments from a richer, imaginary past: the young boys are portraits of siblings the artist never had due to China’s one-child policy, and the toys that litter his canvases are those that he could not afford in his youth. The objects in Li’s universe are not always as concrete as they seem; they are signifiers of desire and loss that shift fluidly between past, present, and different cultures. Li’s canvases are typically rendered in realist black-and­white with splotches of ink and color that subtly indicate gaps of memory, imperfections in the psychological reconstruction necessary to arrive at this picture. Diner depicts seven children bundled up at a makeshift table, eagerly tucking into bowls with chopsticks almost too large for their hands. While the scene appears innocuous, its psychological source and social references are complex and often grim. The work’s composition and subject evokes, of course, the Last Supper and its attendant themes of sacrifice and celebration. However, Diner also draws more a subtle analogy to Picasso’s Le Repas frugal (The Frugal Repast), where the figures seated at a table face hunger rather than nourishment. The communal taking of food is highly significant in Chinese culture; witness, for example, Mao Zedong’s famous Cultural Revolution-era aphorism, “a revolution is not a dinner party.” In this context, Li’s portrait of children at a feast is actually a touchstone for broader social and historical issues of hunger, China’s one-child policy, and general human oppression. Of Li’s work, Doctor Lincot says: On these canvases we see a child Khmer, a little Tibetan lama…who has not known in this world, or even in his own family, about adopted children or of recomposed families? And Li Tianbing who also knows about the power of images, reveals before us the desire of paternity that we would have known to identify and / or claim. China today is also the tragedy of thirty million “black children (hei haizi),” undeclared children born to “guilty” parents who have crossed the quota of family planning which imposes having only one child. What would become of these children deprived of their rights, their legal existence? China is also the laboratory of the maximum slavery of the 21st century. We cannot ignore these problems neither the social dimension of the paintings painted by Li Tianbing who is the first Chinese artist to take up the subject of the Cultural Revolution in his report on Cambodia and the ethnocide Khymer Rouge. (Dr. E. Lincot, Li Tianbing with the Character of Portrait, available at



Oil on canvas.
200 x 300 cm. (78 7/8 x 118 1/8 in).
Signed and dated ‘ Tianbing Li 2007’ lower left.

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £150,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

28 Feb 2008, 7pm