Lines and Colors art blog

Seascapes are rarely subjects that capture my attention. The seascapes of Ruo Li, however, are striking exceptions.

Sweeping carpets of foam vibrate over rough edged rocks, throwing up volumetric plumes of spray; or quietly seep through crevices and channels on their way back to join the greater sea. Flat planes of water lay against the sand, carrying reflections of the sky in their glistening surface.

His depiction of foam and spray, as well as other white subjects like snow or the white decks of boats, are handled with masterful aplomb.

Li’s rich, painterly approach revels in the textures of his subjects, whether seascapes, landscapes or still life. He often works with a very controlled palette, though he will employ brighter busts of color in his landscapes.

Li was born in Hunan, China and received his BA degree from the Fine Art Department of Guangzhou Academy. He went on to teach in the Fine Art Department of Henan University. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1989 and is currently based in California.

Unfortunately, the galleries on his website are slightly awkward. You can choose easily enough from subject categories along the bottom for Seascapes, Watercolor (image above, bottom), Sketches, Landscape and Floral, as well as “Other” which includes more conceptual pieces, usually involving animal themes.

Once in a particular gallery, however, you have to click on a thumbnail before any images from that gallery appear, and need to take note of the small indicator under the thumbnails of how many pages of thumbnails are in the gallery (the Seascape gallery has 17), and use the small symbols to navigate to the next batch.

There is a mention of his work on the PaintAmerica site, where he won top honors in the 2009 competition. The image there is linked to a larger version than the images on his site, allowing for a better sense of his brushwork and use of texture.

In addition, there is a book of Ruo Li’s Art available on Blurb.

[Suggestion courtesy of James Gurney]


8 responses to “Ruo Li”

  1. wow…i thought those first ones were photos of seascapes…they are amazing!!

  2. I have been a fan of Ruo li’s art for some time and have had a chance to see original paintings in a gallery.
    I love his powerful compositions and his gorgeous palettes of color, many I see myself, living near the ocean.
    Love his ‘chunky’ planes of water in his seascapes.

  3. Charley, There’s no question that these are impressive paintings, but perhaps the thing that impresses me more than the artistic quality is the superhuman level of discipline involved. It seems kind of scary to try capturing the power of sea in a big, wide angle picture by painting each ripple and every microscopic fleck of foam. Other painters, such as Lipking or Wyeth, do a great job capturing moving water by rapidly summarizing the movement with their brush. Ruo Li seems to be out there in the surf with a microscope.

    Much of the art I see coming from China these days (including life drawings) reflects the country’s astonishing determination and precision and rigor. It’s almost as if the artwork mirrors the country’s larger determination to apply themselves and work like crazy and pull themselves up. It is a culture that makes much of the west seem lazy by comparison.

    Once we get past the level of effort, I must say that I prefer Ruo Li’s lovely old tree to the seascapes because it has more of a human touch to it. It is not trying to deny that it is paint applied by mortal hand wielding a brush.

    For that matter, if readers follow your link to James Gurney’s blog they will see one of Gurney’s recent paintings of water– a humble mud puddle in the rain that Gurney painted while waiting for the oil to be changed on his car. Artistically speaking, I’d rather hang Gurney’s lovely little water color, with its strong artistic choices, on my wall than one of Ruo Li’s exhausting paintings.

    1. David & Iain,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I think that the effect of reducing the images to the small size they are displayed on Li’s site, and the even smaller size at which I’ve shown them here, is exaggerating the sense of detail in Li’s work. If you look at the one higher resolution image i was able to find, you’ll see that his seascapes are much looser and more painterly than they appear when reduced.

      That being said, I also prefer James Gurney’s work, but then I particularly enjoy his work, as you can see if you follow the links to previous posts at the bottom of this post.

  4. Very interesting. When the first painting opened up I was excited…I thought it was a seascape painted by laying on large chunks of paint with a palette knife, where the paint does the work of texture, light and shade as in a painting by Samuel Peploe, for instance, when he paints those exquisite still lifes of paint tubes and water glasses. When the image refined and I saw it was a painstaking, painful rendition of every drop of water I was turned off. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above. Staggering though the work, skill and technical complexity is in these paintings, they are almost craft (albeit a stratospherically high level of craft) rather than art for me. Give me a James Gurney any day!

  5. Thanks, Charley. That higher resolution image does cast Li’s work in a different light. (I tried looking for one because I was curious, but simply could not find one) His color control is truly extraordinary, but I shudder to think about the apprenticeship that went into producing such formidable technical skills.

    Despite the astonishing skill, and despite the more dynamic brush work you have now shown us, to me Li still seems awfully close to that category of artist with hydraulic fluid in their veins. I concede it’s purely a matter of personal taste, but I would stick with that lovely Gurney mud puddle. I agree with your assessment of the two artists.

  6. Thanks, Charley. very interesting links. David has said it all for me…but I did so enjoy looking at those James Gurney links!

  7. You are correct Charlie in that his site doesn’t do his work credit. I have had the great opportunity to view his work in real life. The paintings are large, his brush strokes loose and vibrant. The way he renders the sea is like no other artist I have ever seen….almost as if he were sculpting the foam and water out of fabric, or a bed sheet. To this day I remain in awe.

    I do understand what David is saying, and I would agree with him…..but if he ever gets to view Ruo’s works in person, I think he would appreciate them more….but then that is true for most artwork, as opposed to viewing them on the internet.