Growing up in Chongqing – a Chinese municipality where the Yangtze and Jialoing rivers meet in a southwesterly region of the country – 绿 李, otherwise known as Lilou Oh Yeah, developed a deep interest in oil painting. As a child, she remembers drawing everywhere. And when she says everywhere, she literally means everywhere, from the walls of her house to the her body in question. During school this constant scribbling continued and, over the years, painting became the main way for 绿 李 to express herself. Years later, and the artist hasn’t stopped. She graduated from Sichuan Fine Art Institute with a BA in oil painting, but still felt a hankering for further creative pursuits. In turn, she enrolled at ESADHaR in Paris where she indulged in European creativity. Having finished her studies there last year, we catch up with Lilou while she is preparing for her soutenance at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University, also in Paris.
“Since I was a teenager,” she tells us, “I was deeply attracted by European literature and art works.” She especially liked French films and literature, having gravitated to the distinct colour palettes in the famous film movements which have gone onto influence her beautiful artworks. It’s not just films that inspire Lilou, she also looks to books and poetry too. During lockdown, she read Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space which resonated deeply with her. At home, she dreamt of going outside which would birth a myriad of new ideas for her. On top of this, her time in lockdown also sparked some other unexpected habits, like watching cute videos of cats and dogs which never fail to relax the artist with their cuteness.
Since 2018, Lilou has been working increasingly in watercolours. After years of crafting her oil painting practice which saw her take over large canvases with her striking brush strokes, she found watercolours to be refreshingly flexible. “All you need is just water and paper to work with,” she remarks. “I love the texture and touch of the paper. Waiting for the different layers to dry takes time but I like to spend hours and days on it.”
Once she finishes an artwork, Lilou can finally observe her handiwork from a distance. “It’s like peeling something from oneself then learning from it,” she says. She views the creative process as a form introspection, like “an adventure into my subconscious world,” she adds. Depicting insignificant and ordinary objects which bear no distinct identity, Lilou’s images provoke subjective memories which she hopes will transform into universal experiences. “I hope that the viewers will be distracted for a while when they look at my works,” she says, referring to her paintings as “an open space”. “I like that my paintings are warm and full of life, I want to share this warmth with the viewers.”
As a cinephile, Lilou similarly frames her paintings like individual film stills. It’s a style she’s developed over time, finding a sweet spot in a still life to close in on, like a camera’s slow pan. In this way, she likes to use simple lines and colours to highlight the scene before her. It creates an abstract sense on the canvas, a merging of a “sometimes easy sometimes nervous” atmosphere arising from her uniquely flat style.
In some ways, Lilou’s work is all about the subtle details. For one, she observes these moments in her day-to-day life, and draws fragments from these memories which relate to personal experiences. “I can feel the aura of many things,” she says, even sensing certain emotions in seemingly plain objects. Instead of using words to convey these sensations, she uses images; capturing moments that we might not pay attention to ordinarily. She sees her artworks as a documentation of a mental state and uses the analogy of a paused film to further expand: “Just like when you are watching a movie, you press the pause button and you get a still frame, sometimes it’s interesting that you can see something else.” And for Lilou, these snapshots are representations of her daily life, eternally captured on paper.
GalleryCopyright © 绿 李 Lilou Oh Yeah, 2021
Copyright © 绿 李 Lilou Oh Yeah, 2021
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.