Li Jin’s feature in the Art Collector magazine, Melbourne Art Fair 2024 Special Edition


About Tai Mitsuji


Tai Mitsuji is a writer and art historian, who holds a Masters (with Distinction) in Art History from the University of Oxford. He has taught art history at the University of Sydney and was recently awarded the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship for his PhD at Harvard University. He currently sits on the editorial board of Runway Journal, and has previously written for a variety of domestic and international publications.

The article ‘In Pursuit of Painting’ by Tai Mitsuji is featured in Art Collector magazine, Melbourne Art Fair 2024 Special Edition. This article provides a fascinating inspirations of Li Jin’s artworks and the unique painting experience.


In Pursuit of Painting

by Tai Mitsuji


The ink paintings of Li Jin are imbued with an unmistakable present-ness. When he paints food, he says he is like a cook, “cooking with a brush”.

Li Jin’s ink paintings do not begin their life as a series of fastidious designs, nor do they start as a sequence of laboriously plotted sketches. Rather, they begin with a feeling. “There will be an impulse in my heart that is not always specific but certainly forms some basis,” Li explains. “In the theory of Chinese painting, there is a saying that the scene in front of you needs to be pursued.” Li has become a master of this pursuit over the past four decades. While as a young artist Li was more interested in oil painting, a critical conversation with his aunt nudged him towards ink painting. Even now, one can imagine the works that Li might have made had he remained committed to oil painting, yet one can also imagine the material loss that would have arisen had he not picked up the ink brush. “Ink was closer to my temperament and character because I am a very spontaneous person,” Li himself notes. “My ideas and hands can be in sync better.” For Li’s improvisational mind and dexterous hand, ink painting allows for an almost seam- less connection between thought and action.

To pick up an ink brush is to continue in a tradition that has spanned more than a thou- sand years – for as Li poetically observes, “we are already standing on the shoulders of the ancients.” Yet despite the age of the ink form and the weight of its history, Li’s works have an unmistakable present-ness to them. That is, his paintings register the particularities of the contemporary world – and more specifically of his world – with a pronounced freshness, even as he works within the tradition of Chinese literati ink painting. In The Secret to Happiness 妙乐天机, 2023 we see a constellation of figures – including Sesame Street’s Elmo – inhabiting a pictorial plane, which moves from a misty landscape to blooming trees, to a table filled with all manner of food. “I don’t paint things I don’t understand,” Li remarks, before noting that his works are often asso- ciated with worldly pleasures: “when people think of artist Li Jin, they would think of sex, food, and drinks.”

There is undoubtedly pleasure to be had in Li’s Carnivore is not Vulgar 肉食者不鄙, 2021. Moving across the composition, our eyes feast on the sight of roasted fish and meat, which provoke an almost synesthetic response: we are beset with the urge to taste, smell, and savour, as we stare at the painting. “When I paint food, I am like a cook, cooking with a brush,” he explains. “When we savour a dish, the most direct way is to stop examining the ingredients and culinary techniques.” And this is exactly what Li’s paintings are able to make us do; they move us to look beyond their constitutive parts so that we might imbibe them, allowing them to pass through us.






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