Culture / Art Republik

Fauna Allegoria: Chinese Artist Leo Liu Xuan Qi Melds The East and West

“With the rapid development of today’s technology, human beings’ awe of nature slowly disappears, and their hearts become arrogant.”

Dec 31, 2021 | By Joseph Low
Artist Leo Liu Xuan Qi on the far right.

Chinese artist Leo Liu Xuan Qi has always dabbled with the arts since his days as an Art Director in an advertising company. Albeit in a different form and medium, Liu saw how his past experience served as a conduit for his artistic creation when he chose to take up art as a full-time career. The artworks he has created so far are multi-dimensional — spanning from sculptures to paintings.

Ahead is a short catch up with the artist.

You were born in China in 1977 and you graduated from the Shanghai Printing College in 1999 (Art and Design). You decided first to head to the advertising world and you worked as an Art Director. What did this experience in a Shanghai-based advertising agency taught you?

Golden clouds
南山金霭 Golden Clouds, ink and colour on rice paper. Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

The experience from the advertising company greatly benefited my following artistic creations, especially with regards to visual communication and creativity.

Tell us about your first steps as an artist when you decided to focus fully on your art?

acrylic and charcoal on paper
Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

When I decided to switch from design to being a full-time artist, my first steps were to search for themes, ideas and thoughts that I wanted to express. Whenever I want to create a piece of artwork, I will go out for a walk, or visit a bookstore or shopping mall, allowing myself to enter a relaxed state. This arouses my train of thought and inspires me. This may be an old habit from when I worked in the advertising company.


With your background as a graphic designer, you have explored elements from traditional Chinese art — in particular ink painting — which you have then mixed with contemporary design and vivid pop colours. Would you say that you are merging east and west iconographic elements throughout your art?

Yes, this cannot be avoided, because I have always been influenced by both. When I was a child, I started copying and learning from the ”Jie Zi Yuan — The Mustard Seed Garden” painting book, and I studied calligraphy until high school, and I had a deep appreciation for traditional Chinese art.

Later on I studied Western painting (drawing, colour and sketching) for examination purposes. Therefore, Chinese and Western art has been implanted in my heart since the early days. Additionally, the design thinking process from advertising melted and merged with my heart over time. I prefer using contemporary and popular visual language to convey the Eastern spirit.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Usually inspiration comes from factual news or perceptions of life, and sometimes when you go shopping, inspiration always pops out for me, and I will record it right away.

What type of materials do you usually work with?

Leo Liu Xuan Qi
Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

I prefer using a variety of materials together, such as acrylic paint, Chinese ink and charcoal pens. Sometimes different materials blend together to produce unexpected visual effects.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Usually inspiration comes from factual news or perceptions of life, and sometimes when I go to shopping, inspiration always pops out for me, and I will record it right away.

Wang Guangyi is known as a leader of the New Art Movement that started in China after 1989 and is one of the central figures of the Political Pop movement. Best known for his “Great Criticism Series”, Wang creates links between the propaganda aesthetics of the Cultural Revolution and striking imagery of American Pop. Do you relate to some of Wang Guangyi’s artworks?

Wang Guangyi is like China’s Andy Warhol. His works not only have rich Chinese elements but also have a strong imprint of the times. This is also a standard for my own work, which indicates my identity without losing the sense of the times.

Art critics have noted some influence from Andy Warhol in your art. Would you agree there? Would you describe yourself as a pop-art artist?

Little Duckling, Acrylic
Yellow Duckling. Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

Agree with this statement, I was indeed influenced by him.

My first series of “Yellow Duckling” works have distinctive Pop Art characteristics. This is mainly due to his influence. For example, colourful, symbolic clouds often appear in the background, but there is also a part of my own deliberate integration of a realistic style into the work, showing a contrast between a flat plane and a three-dimensional environment. And the abrupt context also reflects a kind of conflict between tradition and contemporary culture. I should be regarded as half a pop artist because it has gone beyond flattening and symbolising and has a greater sense of spatial vision.

You were awarded the Platinum Award at the 31st UOB Singapore Paining of the Year Competition for your artwork “Wandering Cloud”. How important has been this Award in your career as an artist?

Wandering Cloud
Wandering Cloud. Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

This award is very important to my art career. It affirms and encourages my artistic creation. It also prompts me to think about new artistic creation directions. It makes me pay more attention to the relationship between traditional and contemporary pop culture. Coincidentally, Singapore exists exactly between the two cultures of the East and the West.

What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?

I hope to experience happy emotions, and be full of hope and dreams for the future.

What is the role the artist plays in the society?

Leo Liu Xuan Qi, art
Image: Leo Liu Xuan Qi

For myself, I act as a practitioner in society.

The five words that describe best your art?

Brightness, future, dreams, emptiness, fusion.

What can visitors expect to see from you at Fauna Allegoria 2022?

Leo Liu Xuan Qi, Fauna Allegoria exhibition
Artist Leo Liu Xuan Qi’s exhibition at Fauna Allegoria.

I want to use Fauna Allegoria’s exhibition to think deeply about our relationship with nature, and the future. With the rapid development of today’s technology, human beings’ awe of nature slowly disappears, and their hearts become arrogant. They greedily destroy the natural environment for short-term needs, resulting in the natural environment losing its balance. Humans should re-establish their belief in nature to overcome the earth’s difficult situation.

You have moved with your family to the Lion City. Which is your favourite museum in Singapore?

National Gallery Singapore and the MINT Museum of Toys.

What is your favourite mantra that you live by?

Go with the flow.

If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be ?

Marcel Duchamp and Wu Guan Zhong.

Get your tickets to the exhibition here. Be sure to follow Leo Liu Xuan Qi’s Instagram: @leo_liu_xuanqi

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