Exploration through Family Narratives, Los Angeles-based Painter Larry Li

Larry Li is a Chinese American artist originally from Northern California. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, where he obtained his MFA from the Otis College of Art and Design. He also holds a BFA from USC Roski School of Fine Art. Larry’s practice operates in the space of cultural and material contrast. He combines the visual language of Chinese culture along with his experiences as a child of immigrants existing in a diaspora. Painting, drawing, collage, and found photography find their way into the work to visualize his personal narrative of the Chinese American experience. He draws from family and historical photographs to delve into the intersections of familial and political histories, casting a critical lens on both the east and west, and exploring the complexities of that hybridity. 

Larry’s work has been shown at Residency Gallery, Inglewood, F2T gallery in Milan, Felix Art Fair in Los Angeles, and Another Place Gallery in New York. In 2021 he was featured in the recent MFA issue #153 of the New American Paintings and was a California Arts Council emerging artist fellow.

Familial Archive 7, 30in X 40in, Acrylic, Image transfer, Pastel on canvas, 2021

We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Chinese American artist born and raised in the bay area California. My parents immigrated to the states in the 90’s and much of my practice draws from that context of existing in this hybridity between east and west. I have always been drawn to one’s creative expression. I have been drawing and painting since I was a kid and did Chinese martial arts, as well as dance hip hop choreography to this day. I believe all these aspects contribute to my creative practices. Today, now living in Los Angeles, finishing up my MFA at Otis College of Art and Design, my painting practice has taken the front seat. I just got my first studio out of school in Downtown Los Angeles, and I look forward to continuing to explore where my passions take me.

The Home is Red 2, 10ft X 10ft, Oil on canvas mounted on vinyl banner, 2022

What brings you to art? What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

The diaspora was only something I really became aware of when I left home for the first time. Meeting people from all over the world outside the bubble I grew up in, yet still finding commonality through a shared cultural detachment and yearning. That distance to culture and familial history experienced as a Chinese American is the backbone of the ideas I wish to explore through my work. It’s a personal investigation into my family history from the perspective of an outsider. 

You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?

The most rewarding project I’ve done has to be my senior thesis at USC during my undergrad in 2019. I was given the opportunity to receive a travel grant that allowed me to go back to Zheng Zhou, China. The hometown of my fathers, to conduct research for my show “Inherited Fruits”. I examined the changes of the city since I last visited 7 years ago, through the specificity of a collapsing street market culture in the face of urbanization. This return to a familiar but vastly different place in my life offered much healing, inspiration, and wholeness for me that would carry me throughout the pandemic and the present day. I think about that summer and the work that came out of it often as it ignited a new flame in my practice. 

Her Journey to the West, 78in X 60in, Acrylic, Oil, Pastel on canvas, 2021

How do you define “Success” in art?

In such a subjective field as art it is important that one feels content in their own creation and sees it as just that. Their own. There might be a familiar lineage of makers that you will be in conversations with but no one is anyone but themselves. I find success in the narratives of my family that I can represent through my own hands that help me find a greater appreciation for my specific human experience.

My Government has Gone Mad, 68in X 56in, Oil, Ink, Acrylic on canvas, 2020

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

I struggle with the solitary mentality of a painter. I often spend days by myself in the studio and only recently started seeing the value of having a community to support you. Find like-minded individuals that want to elevate each other, and you will attract what you put out in the world.

Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?

As I prepare to transition out of being in academia almost my whole life, I realize how much of the learning really is all up to you. I am grateful for my experience with school but there is no one way to do something or really any way to actually be taught how to be an artist. Never stop creating, but always find time to pursue other avenues of life. Nothing is that serious.

China’s Sorrow, F2T gallery install shot, 60in X 48in, Oil, Oil stick on canvas, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Larry Li

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