A lyrical and intimate study of beloved flowers, Liu Dan’s Narcissus is a poetic contemplation on the universe delicately rendered in ink that holds a special place in the artist’s heart. The seemingly simple and graceful composition – with slender leaves and the cluster of flowers blooming from an elegant stem – is complemented by calligraphy of poems and ancient verses about the narcissus flower, executed in the artist’s fine hand. Exuding a luminous and glowing beauty, this portrait of narcissus appears almost timeless with a spiritual intensity. It is no wonder that Liu Dan has written in the note accompanying the painting addressed to Mrs Eleonora Volf that “this piece is probably the best [flower painting] I have done so far.”
Painted in 2000, Narcissus belongs to the series of flower paintings that Liu Dan began in the late 1990s when he was living in New York. In the catalogue of his solo exhibition, Still Expression – Recent Flower Paintings by Liu Dan held at the Chinese Porcelain Company in New York, the artist writes eloquently that “whether it is from a life sketch or from a photograph, [the flowers’] shapes are formed initially in order ‘not to forget.’ Now what has been painted has become the ‘remembered’.”
The flowers the artist encountered also bore witness to friendships: it was first in the beautiful garden of Mrs Volf that Liu Dan found important inspiration for his flower paintings. When Liu Dan visited one day, the narcissus was in bloom and she insisted that the artist should paint the flower. An expression of gratitude for the inspiration, this painting was dedicated to her as the beauty of the narcissus is now immortalised and forever remembered. On a subsequent visit to Mrs Volf, Liu Dan was captivated by the red poppies blossoming in her garden and immediately knew he had found the ideal subject to paint.
In Narcissus, the memory of the flowers is created by Liu’s distillation of his subject matter into a pure visual experience, one so beautiful that it becomes impossible to forget. For blossoms are transient beings – and the flowers depicted by Liu Dan appear more beautiful than in reality. One would never see the objects he paints the same way again, but ponder over the complexity of things and the emotions they can unleash.
Liu Dan’s fascination with everyday objects allows him to explore the mystery and uncertainty in their structure before decontexturalising them. For him, it is the aesthetics that interests him: “What I strive to build or ‘restore’ is the relationship between a painting’s fundamental elements. This relationship can be found somewhere between a visual impression, an image and the concept of the microcosm. I try to identity this relationship and endow it with an epic puissance through brushwork.” In Narcissus, Liu Dan perfectly captures the elegance and vitality of the narcissus flowers, resulting in an image that is at once monumental and intimate, radiating a quiet energy.