By Bao Lin
For several years, Ma Li came to the Academy of Fine Arts to take my class. Her sketch was different. She just used the model as an imagery, and did not depict the details, but quickly transformed the object into a vivid one.
Ma Li's sensitivity to form and diligence in painting are amazing. She has accumulated a lot; including human bodies, landscapes, still lifes, her own reflections and expressions, as well as memories of her hometown. Over the years, she has devoted most of her time to painting. What I see in her newly collated series of works, is more like a picture book, much like a song of life; transforming abstract notes into visual images. Amongst them, the dramatic Internet meme package that has appeared on WeChat App and is loved by her fans and friends. Most of the contents of this meme package are extracted from Ma Li's early experience of opera, film and television. Whether it is goldfish, cat or herself, such as stage characterization, human subconsciousness, the expression is idealized and symbolized; such as sapphire blue eyes with tears, black eyes staring at the viewer, so that each other feels that there is something to say and yet to say.
Ma Li sketched freely in class, with various topics outside school. From her feel of color pigments, I could see that she was already experimenting. This was something she could explore by herself, unlike other fields.
After the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic last year, Ma Li was unable to come to the college. She isolated herself in her residence in the south of the city. The room was filled with painting tools. She sketched directly on the large canvas and watched the flowers bloom and fall in front of the window, resulting in her series of "Closed Spring". This series of paintings recorded the loneliness of spring 2020, and also showcased both melancholics and expectations on the balcony.
No matter what subject matter Ma Li paints, she paints passionately，splendidly and “erotically”, which is also the intrinsic value permeating into today's digital art. For example, she painted a series of paintings "Winter Paris" in France. I have been in Paris for many years, and I have always felt that winter Paris is not romantic. I have also seen many winter Paris painted by French painters, mostly bleak and gloomy.
Ma Li's Paris paintings in the winter of 2017 are confessions of her love journey, painting herself and her lover, with the background of the Seine River, the Eiffel Tower, cafes in alleys, etc. A large number of paper sketches are her personal diaries. It reflects sensibility, frankness, rose-tinted romance, spontaneity, color saturation, transparency, with no repeated smearing. It can be seen that this group of "Winter Paris" is the most touching part of Ma Li's life, and it is also the most painted part, and it was completed at one go.
Ma Li grew up in the south of the Yangtze River and received traditional opera education. Her award-winning operatic singing reminds me of the "Six Chapters of a Floating Life" that I read many years ago. The sadness and euphemism of the south of the Yangtze River always unfold slowly in a soothing modal expression. Those black tiles and white walls, small bridges and flowing water, lake rocks and duckweed, and violet black smoke and slanting rain are all the contexts generated by this mode.
Ma Li's paintings of "Innocent Age" reveal her rebellious pursuit: the little girl who wants to break free from the window bars, the little girl who looks at the fairy in the clouds in a daze, and the pastel girl with orchid fingers in costume. These memories are all captured by another painting with half a short head and a pair of staring eyes exposed on the mountain path of her hometown. She is resolute and does not look back and goes to the distance! It must be her best comment on the "Age of Innocent".
In addition to painting, Ma Li also writes, turning her feelings and experiences into two kinds of presentation; picture book and text, with two pens in dialogue. This kind of painting belongs to the expression of "getting the source of the heart", but this academic technique dose not suit her. Ma Li paints in the most direct way, and we will see basic human nature from these paintings perception logic and vividness.
In addition, I have always questioned the label of feminism, and I will not put this label on Ma Li. If many women's paintings contain the pursuit of a mirror image, it may be an imagination from the exchange of other people's eyes and their own eyes, but in fact, women and men are the same. Most of them have nothing to do with "doctrine". Seeing and being seen only relates to good-looking, while good-looking is only related to aesthetics. However, I do believe that women are superior in the nature of art, because their intuition is the source of expression. Because of her sensibility, Ma Li's paintings and articles are born of instinct, which create resonance with others.
但愿马莉能够将绘画与写作进行下去，记录自己、记录别人、记录这个世界，这些都是当下生命状态最直接的凭据。I hope Ma Li can continue to paint and write, record herself, others and the world, which are all the most existential evidence of the current state of life.
Bao Lin graduated from the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts (now the Academy of Fine Arts of Tsinghua University) in 1982 and stayed at the school as a teacher. In 1986, he studied at the University of Paris I at public expense and obtained a master's degree and a doctor's degree. He also did his research and study at the National Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Decorative Arts in Paris. In 1995, he returned to China as an associate professor of the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts and an expert consultant of Beijing. From 2000 to 2004, he was the director and professor of the Institute of Fine Arts of Tsinghua University. From 2005 to 2008, Professor Bao served as deputy dean of the Academy of Fine Arts of Tsinghua University and Chairman of the Department of Painting. Since 2009, he has been the deputy director of Zhang Ding Art Research Center, Tsinghua University.