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  • Writer's pictureLoy Luo

Loy Luo | New York, 2020,"Homeless" Documentary

Insightart Interview

Lonely people watch lonely people

"People braved the winter rain and literally risked their lives to come, lonely people watched lonely people, a troubadour sang and danced in front of paintings of troubadours.”At the beginning of December 2020, in the not-so-luxurious room of Undercurrent Gallery in New York, Loy Luo's "homeless" series of paintings were laid out on the floor, like homeless people lying on the roadside under an overpass, waiting for the audience to arrive.

Undercurrent Gallery Front porch

Undercurrent Gallery showroom

In January 2020, Loy Luo made a decision to temporarily travel to the United States, seeking a change of scenery. This was the beginning of a unique experience for the artist. After landing at New York's Kennedy Airport, she rented a car and drove to several cities on the east coast, where she began her avid tour of galleries and museums. Originally, Loy planned to drive all the way to the west coast, but then came the news of the pandemic. Foreseeing the coming of an increasingly anxious world, she escaped to the mountains not far north of New York City, where she “sheltered” in the homes of several American families for a couple of weeks, feeling terrified.

Loy Luo wearing a mask at the opening

In late February, in spite of her worries, Loy Luo returned to New York City with a desire for artistic exchange. After a lot of trial and thought, she embarked on the 100 Portraits Project, a project to sketch people who wore or didn’t wear a mask on the streets of New York in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. On July 15, "The Other I," a performance exhibition of 100 portraits, opened at the White Box Art Center in New York for two months. During this period, Loy Luo started the preparation and creation of her next project - an expression of the concept of “homeless”.

"Homeless" exhibition

Luo began creating a series of homeless paintings while illegally living in her studio as a homeless person during the time of COVID-19. In the fourth month, the partners of New York's Undercurrent Gallery approved the solo exhibition plan of "Homeless" and included it in the gallery's exhibition plan for December 2020.Undercurrent Gallery contributor Adriana Furlong wrote:As the city performs relentless alterations, its inhabitants strain to survive inside fragile micro-diasporas. Those who inhabit the chasm between public and private space embody an indeterminacy that, at best, defies co-option and, at worst, is testament to political failure. However, Luo believes from the perspective of personal experience that artists are born wanderers with their own psychological struggles, and because of that are more sensitive to the problems of their time than ordinary people.

Lonely looking

A "minstrel" singer who sings and dances in The Homeless

Obviously, Loy Luo's faceless figures suggest a loss of both identity and dignity in the modern world, but when the artist saw a kind of sculptural majesty in “Quasimodo”’s hunchbacked body, and the 'Troubadour' standing lonely among the ruins of history, Loy was reminded of the meaningfulness of those whose existence is labeled as otiosity, which is discussed in classical Chinese philosophy. The intention of the works is not so much to emphasize the despair of those who are homeless. Instead it is loneliness tempered with a bit of resilience; not overly strong, perhaps, but somehow always warm and optimistic in the face of this turbulent world.

walking on the streets

The back of the art: death, existence, expression

Living through a pandemic in a foreign country has given Luo a different perspective on death and existence. Through observing human nature during this hard time, she felt that a person's spirit could suddenly break down and become obsessed with the body. She gained an understanding of the last psychological struggles, shadows, distortions of the dying, and a a sympathy for the fragility of life. It also makes us more determined to recognize that all the promotion of war and violence is man’s greatest evil - an evil that leads human beings to lose the connection to their spiritual selves and instead act like animals.

Loy Luo is in the exhibition hall

The new cognition can also be used to explain the change of her creative appearance in different stages. Loy Luo said she started the "100 People Portrait Project" with great enthusiasm because she feared that individuality would be lost to the community during the disaster. In the initial atmosphere of horror, she did not realize that there is a problem with equating a person’s individuality only with their appearance. However, she tried to depict each unique face with a sincere reverence for life. Perhaps it was her obsessive-compulsive stubbornness and excessive earnestness which also formed another kind of spiritual characteristic, a kind of simple emotion similar to the presence of the body.

The NewYork Times of May 24th

"The Other I" solo exhibition portrait works

Luo conjectured that people's perception of the spirit is closely related to the fear of death. The more afraid people are, the more likely they are to fall into the world of appearances. The safer they are, the closer they are to the purer spirit, the reality of appearances is not so important. She said that when the sudden threat of life and death is at hand, people may rely on the attachment to the physical appearance to divert and disperse the inner fear; And when the threat is reduced or people have adapted to the terror, they are able to experience their true emotions and try to express them. Only when they feel more secure can they revive their thinking on the value problems that life always faces. At this time, artistic expression begins to become calm, abstract, or really profound.

A large sketch from the "The Other I" exhibition

The artist works at her studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn

A painting exhibition that is not a painting exhibition

The experience in 2020 has led to the change of Loy Luo's creative concept, state and form. We can see that the three consecutive solo exhibitions she held after coming to New York (one of which is an online exhibition) are not abstract art as she did before. However, Luo stressed that her new works are not just pieces of Figural art that may be understood by many people, it is not even representational expressionism. She says, the pencil portraits and homeless-image-themed paintings, in the exhibition, are outside forms, behind which are some concept or performance art. These paintings are elements of a complete system.

In “The Other I” show, she reminded us to pay attention to the video installation works which recorded a performance on the street in the outbreak as well as the newspaper ready-made works displayed in the show which remind us of the close connection between the works and the temporal context. She disclosed that behind the "Homeless" exhibition was the simulated life situation of her own illegal homelessness that had been going on already for half a year. At the same time, the details, in the exhibition, also reflect the intention that treats the paintings themselves as ready-mades, maybe bodies glimpsed in passing.

Video installation for the solo exhibition “The Other I”

Calligraphic elements from the "Homeless" exhibition

homeless performance

Exhibition postures: expressionism, freehand style, semiotics

Loy Luo said the biggest gain of the exhibition was her communication with visiting artists from New York. To Luo's delight, she saw the attention, seriousness, which is harmony with the atmosphere of the show. In addition to the artist neighbors from Dumbo Art District who attended the opening ceremony, Sergey Kir and other visitors said that they came to the show because they saw some art media posts, and they shared with Loy Luo some media information that she did not know. Artists also shared their feeling about Loy’s art: James Howard Collins, Markus, Nikol 'a Mironovic thought the paintings full of emotion; Vytenis Jankunas, John Ensor Parker said the images were full of meaning; Mark Crawford, John Mazlish said the images were reminiscent of Goya and Munch; Paul Chepolis talked about the ingenious convergence of abstract and representational elements in the picture; Michael Ser, Philip Rothenberg appreciates the conflict and harmony between different materials; Queenie Wang asked if the artist had a background in Chinese splash-ink brushwork, etc.

partial details of the works from “Homeless”

Liang Kai, Fan Kuan, Mu Xi

“Homeless” Series

Visitors were sensitive to the style of the exhibition and felt that resting the paintings essentially on the floor was appropriate to the theme of "homeless"; There are also the wooden blocks under the paintings, the names of the paintings written on the ground with a ink brush, and other unobtrusive but ubiquitous Chinese calligraphy elements, which were identified and mentioned by the viewers as symbols with special meanings. It seems that the conscious use of semiotic methods of interpretation is common in New York art circles. For example, the black curving strip on the left of "Red Wall" was seen by Steve West as a crutch so large that the homeless man in the corner could not reach it. Or the fuzzy blue figure in "The Bronze Sleeping Buddha " is read by Scott Endsley as a protector, even though this interpretation may be contrary to the artist’s original intention.

works of ”Homeless" on the floor

the calligraphy graffiti in ”Homeless" exhibition

the details of works of ”Homeless”

Whenever she passed the street corner near the gallery with a graffiti on the wall and the poster of the exhibition below it on the ground, Loy was reminded of Adriana’s opening line of the exhibition preface: “How long, and to what degree, must a being imprint itself upon the geometries of our lived architecture before imparting suggestions of a warm body?”.

The poster on the street corner

She says that in the context of contemporary art, to capture the signifier which originated from the individual life experience of the artist but also resonates with the external world requires the artist to be honest with him- or herself and sensitive to the time. "Mask" and "homeless" are the signifiers with rich levels of meaning in the current time, in her eyes.

How far is spring

Some lines from The Book of Songs, a collection of classical Chinese poems, say, “When I left there were budding willows by the road; when I returned, rain and snow”. Although in January when Loy Luo left China, it was far from willow to bud, the world was still peaceful. But when her visa expired here in July 2020, the pandemic was at its peak after nearly five months from its start in the U.S., so she could not go back to China and had to extend her visa for six months. And then, although she had planned to return after the Homeless exhibition, she discovered the flight she had booked three months in advance was cancelled because of the renewed pandemic. Spring seems far away in New York in January, but Loy's harvest is still very warm.

Both Luo and the gallery owners were happily surprised by the art media’s coverage of the “homeless" exhibition opening: Artforum, Artcard. Cc, Artindumbo, allevent. In,,,,, etc., as well as pushed forward by some social media. Chinese art critic Xia Kejun and artists Dong He and Li Zhenzhong - hosted by Duan Yongchao - had an online art exchange with Loy Luo under the organization of the Chinese NGO CoolReeds.

Online Art Salon

It is very encouraging to note that Undercurrent had sent out a general notice for interested artists to apply for future shows there around the same time as Homeless opened and ended up receiving almost 70 returns. It could be noted that non-profit galleries in the United States offer exhibitions to artists they believe are excellent - not necessarily because they are well-known or popular - and also that the daily tours of the galleries are conducted by volunteers, which people believe can better maintain the purity of art.

Undercurrent Gallery social-media

Although New York City is certainly suffering under the effects of the pandemic, the gallery received a generous donation from art patron Christopher Pelham at the beginning of the exhibition, and continued to receive requests of pieces from the show for collections up to the end of the exhibition. On the day of the show's departure, a patron and friend from upstate New York drove to the gallery to help take Ms. Luo's work and luggage to a new studio temporarily provided for her to embark on the next phase of her creativity.

the new studio upstate New York

Loy Luo’s works

The Son of the God, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Red Wall, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Dumbledore, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Quasimodo,Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Copper Sleeping Buddha, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Huge Bed, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Shaded Area, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Troubadour, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Blace Wall, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Entanglement, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Subway Hall, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Boss, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Black Gate, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

A peek at the Window, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

On the Windowsill, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The City Mountain, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Scarecrow, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

The Fashion Model, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

Tea Time, Mixed-Media, 36” *48”, 2020

(Thanks for English editor:Metanoia,Mark Crawford, James Howard Collins)

















羅一说此次展览最大的收获是她与来访的纽约艺术家们的交流。让羅一欣慰的是,她看到参观者们欣赏作品时的专注、严肃和作品间呼应出的和谐调性。除了Dumbo 艺术区的艺术家邻居来参加开幕式,Sergey Kir 等艺术家朋友说是看到媒体展讯专程赶来,他们分享给羅一那些她并不知情的媒体讯息。陆续前来观展的参观者们热情分享其观展感受:James Howard Collins,Markus.Nikol’a Mironovic认为画面情绪饱满,Vytenis Jankunas、John Ensor Parker说画面构思充满寓意;Mark Crawford, John Mazlish说这些画面让人联想到戈雅、蒙克;Paul Chepolis谈到画面抽象具象元素的衔接巧妙;Michael Ser, Philip Rothenberg欣赏不同材料间的冲突和谐;Queenie Wang问艺术家是否有中国泼墨大写意的背景经历,等等。

参观者对展览方式很敏感,觉得把放在地板上的画很吻合“无家可归”的主题; 还有画下的木块,用毛笔在地上写下的画名,以及其他不引人注目但随处可见的中国书法元素等,它们被观者识别和提及为具有特殊意义的符号。似乎有意识地使用符号学的解读方法在纽约艺术界很普遍。例如,“红墙”左边的黑色弯曲条被Steve West看作是一根巨大的拐杖,以至于角落里的流浪汉够不到它。又如《青铜睡佛》中的模糊蓝色身影被Scott Endsley解读为一个保护者,尽管这种解读可能与艺术家的原意恰好相悖。





在画廊和艺术家均无期待的情况下,《无家可归》展惊喜地获得了诸如:Artforum,, Artindumbo,,,,, inoox.com等美国专业艺术媒体的展讯推送,以及不少艺术自媒体的转发。而中国艺术评论家夏可君和艺术家董鹤、李振中则在苇草智酷段永朝先生的组织下和羅一进行了线上艺术交流活动。

令人鼓舞的是,大约在“无家可归”展开幕的同时,暗流画廊向感兴趣的艺术家发出了申请未来展览的通知,最终收到了近70份申请。值得指出的是,美国的非营利画廊为他们认为优秀的艺术家提供展览——不一定,是众所周知的或受欢迎的——而且画廊的日常导览工作由志愿者担任, 人们相信这种非盈利制度可以更好地维护艺术的纯洁。

尽管整个纽约城都因疫情处于大萧条中,画廊还是在展览初期就收到艺术赞助人Christopher Pelham先生的热心捐赠,临近展览结束,画廊陆续收到作品收藏意向。撤展当天,纽约上州一位艺术资助人开车到画廊,将羅一的作品及行李接到为其提供的工作室。


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