The Quixotic Land

Aaron Mao & Han Li

NOV 02 - DEC 05

Opening Reception: 7:00pm - 9:00pm, NOV 02, 2017

In the context of revitalizing painting in today's art world, two artists are brought to spotlight at the Viridian Gallery not only because they affirm the magic of colour and shapes of oil paintings that activate our senses, but more importantly, because they expand the visual vocabulary of Canadian landscape painting. Aaron Mao is an artist who has a long career in advertising industry. By transferring his expertise in design, he creates a dreamy and decorative world that both challenges and reassures our imagination. Han Li is a daring artist who uses his draughtsmanship skills acquired at the Imperial Academy of Arts of Russia to construct colours and compositions in beautiful simplicity. Both artists migrated to Vancouver from China and both showcase Canada's West Coast landscape. The interesting dialogue between their works could be found in the seeming contrast between the chaotic details of Mao's dreamscape and Li's idilic nature. However, they both idealize the landscape to explore the tranquility of the mind.

Painting is making its comeback in the art community. The methodology to oil painting is certainly diverse in Canada. After they return to painting, some contemporary artists like to explore the possibilities of this art form by pushing the envelope of the medium itself. They draw the attention away from the subject matters to the materiality or the process of art making, and more often than not, they do it through the reference of art history. Aaron Mao and Han Li, however, together with some other Chinese artists in diaspora to Vancouver, are taking a different route. They choose to focus on the transcendental quality of paintings, a return to oil painting's tradition. They dig deep into the two-dimensional world of representation, and what comes out new is the endless inspiration from the sensation of the artist creator.

As Mao puts it, his painting is all about stories, including ones from his own and ones from the viewers. Even though landscape paintings have been there for centuries and challenged by avant-garde art movements in various time in art history, there has arguably never been a time when they are out of favour from the public beholders. Every artist brings a very unique point of view at the typical landscape. These subject matters have become the convenient common denominator, through which we ponder into the unique world of others. Stylistically speaking, what is unique in Mao's painting could be said about his idiosyncratic choices of details, such as paper airplane, bubbles, wheat fields, seaweed, the splash of water, and train carriages. The playful randomness of things evoke a carefree state of mind. Mao's series have a connection to his past work experience as a creative director of Ogilvy & Mather Beijing, and the art director of the Vogue China. What organizes the visual cacophony is light-hearted tones. The richness of the colours, lines, and shapes are visually captivating, reminiscent of the decorative appeal of advertising posters. Another design to mash up unrelated objects are the symphony of movements. Upon closer look, every little detail in the series moves: the train carriages are climbing up the hill like a caterpillar, the backpack is flying in the air like having a mind of its own, the water bubble is ascending like in a fairy tale. In all directions, these movements compose the entirety of a dreamscape.

Mao grew up in north west China from a beautiful small town called Yining, and his love of art making was influenced quite early on by his landscape painter father. At the age of five, he had experienced the magnitude of the rugged terrain of the region by traveling with his parents. In his university studies at one of the top-rated Chinese academy of art institutes, Mao was fascinated about oil painting and art design. He later furthered his research at the University of New South Wales in Australia. After he moved to Vancouver, he brought his knowledge of design and painting. He opens up a new window to see the Canadian landscape as the dreamscape, and position himself as a fun-loving boy in the painting, an actor that further animates the composition.

While Mao's painting is packed with movements, Li's painting is nostalgically static. He depicts a landscape in its idealized purity. There is not a trace of human or animals activities in his landscape. There is not even the slightest breeze. Every tree, cloud, hill stay still like they have been there thousands of years, and will continue to exist for thousands of years ahead. The textured surface, the impasto painting style bring back the tradition of painting from the pre-modernist era. What makes his works unique is his keen eye to pearl off the noise and to only present the most essential colours and shapes of a landscape. Li was thoroughly trained in painting in Russia. His execution of the flawless landscape seems effortless. Merely a few block of simple colour and landscape is taking shape. The simplicity is all that matters. Li' intellectual process of painting is also very simple. He simply just paints a landscape when he feels like it and resists the overly intellectual thinking of art making. His approach evokes a line by the ancient Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu, literally translated as: the heaven and earth has great beauty but it does not talk (天地有大美而不言), and in adapted translation: everything has its principle of growth and expounds nothing.

In dialogue with the history of Canadian landscape painting, both Mao and Li's bring their own cultural and personal experiences to enriches the possibilities of the Canadian landscape. Mao names his series the Republic, a reference to Platonism; Li gives the landscape a timeless and utopia quality. This idealization adds an interesting new perspective to the discourse of Canadian landscape painting that can be traced back to the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.

Viridian Gallery is located by the sea in Coal Harbour Quay in the heart of Vancouver. The gallery was established in late 2014, and has drawn considerable attention since opening. The gallery has a goal of promoting contemporary artists, and offers a space for social interaction, exchange of ideas, and a space of imagination. Viridian Gallery works with local artists, and approaches each artistic work with earnestness, with the goal of supporting and recognizing the labour of artists. At the forefront of the boundaries of East-West cultural exchange in Vancouver, the gallery closely follows the development of contemporary art. Through these exhibitions and artistic exchange opportunities, the gallery provides support for local artists through research, exhibition, promotion, collection, and other such activities. For further information regarding the exhibition, please visit the website:, or phone 604-568-3377, or e-mail

Promoting contemporary artwork in the exclusive neighbourhood of Coal Harbour, developing markets of local emerging and established artists and bringing attention to established art world figures internationally.

2015 Viridian Gallery Design
1570 Coal Harbour Quay Vancouver, B.C. V6G 3G1 Canada (604) 568-3377