Moonee Valley Sunshine: Xiang Li
13 July 2021 - 14 January 2022
Artist(s): Xiang Li
Location: Flemington Library
Moonee Valley Sunshine is an exhibition that captures the cultural and seasonal shifts of our local parks, rivers, and neighbourhoods throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Li visited key landscapes in Moonee Valley and astutely observed changes in activity, movement, and season through Melbourne’s lockdowns. Her paintings are framed to present a small, yet significant slice of local life during the pandemic. Through Li’s warm and intimate works, she seeks to commemorate the ability of our community to withstand isolation, and find joy in our connection to place and neighbourhood.
Xiang Li is an emerging visual artist and currently undertaking a Masters of Art Therapy. She is interested in exploring ways that art can be used to improve our mental health and wellbeing. She was recently awarded the Local Emerging Artist Prize in the 2021 Wyndham Art Prize.
Artist Interview: Xiang Li
What’s your relationship to Moonee Valley?
My first visit was to a nursery and a café recommended by my neighbour. I really liked it and it blows my mind how a nursery and café can look! I enjoyed walking along the riverbank with my family. I then decided to apply to exhibit in Moonee Valley with my watercolour paintings of local landscapes, and I have another exhibition in Moonee Valley next year.
Can you please describe your art practice – i.e. the mediums that you use and the concepts, ideas, or experiences that inspire your work as an artist?
My art practice started with watercolours, but I also work with other mediums including oil, found objects, and mixed media. I think art is a great way to communicate and express our feelings. When I have emotions that I wish to express, I make art. I enjoy the process of art-making and trust that through the process that meaning will emerge. I am always searching for the meaning of life and I believe art is the meaning of my life. Art is a way to reflect our soul.
What was your earliest experience of art? Can you describe it?
In late 2017 I bought a set of watercolours and I started painting flowers from my garden. At that time art was just a hobby, but I was lucky that I got a lot support from my family and friends. I remember I was in Beijing and a friend visited me and she saw a painting of autumn leaves I just did. She said that she loved it and I gave her the work and she placed it on her bookshelf, so being recognised does give me a lot of confidence. In early 2018, I set a goal of making 100 watercolour paintings to support my mental health. At the time, it seemed so unrealistic and unachievable. But I did it. Today, when I look back at how much my art has changed, I look forward to the future of my career as an artist.
Do you have a favourite artwork, artist, or exhibition? Does this influence or shape your own practice in some way?
I like many artists and artworks, so it is hard to say which is my favourite. But if I can pick any artwork ever created in history and put it in my living room, I would pick Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom. I still remember the feeling when I first saw the artwork in a book when I was a child. The work makes me feel peaceful when I look at it. I would like people who sees my work to have a similiar feeling too.
How has working as an artist during the pandemic changed or informed your approach to art-making, if at all?
The COVID lockdown gave me more time for art-making. It was stressful for most people to stay home, but for an introvert like me, it gave me time to slow down. I spent 60-70 hours each week during the lockdown focused on art-making. I also participated in an art program called Wunder Gym sponsored by Wyndham City. The program shaped my art creation and I started making other artworks, not just watercolour painting. I tried mixed-media, found objects, and installation. One of my works from the Wunder Gym program was awarded the Wyndham Art Prize 2021 LEAP Award and I am now in the Wyndham Art Gallery Collection.
The COVID pandemic also made me appreciate small things in my life. A sunny afternoon become so enjoyable. That was the time I walked around Moonee Valley and saw how people enjoyed their freedom, and that later became the theme of my solo exhibition. One day when the pandemic is over, people might see my work and think about how we did have resilience to enjoy our lives even during that tough time.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you working on now? How can we continue to follow and support your art practice?
I am working on two solo exhibitions at the moment. The first one named A River Runs Through It, which is supported by Moonee Valley and will be exhibited at Ascot Vale Library in 2022. It is an art project about the waterways around us to raise awareness about the protection of wildlife. This project was also awarded an Art Development Grant by Wyndham City. The second project I’ve been working on since 2020 is an art project that records the stories of immigrants in Australia by painting an item that holds sentimental value to them. This will be exhibited at the Library at the Dock.