WILKES-BARRE — Over the last four year’s of Ying Li’s career, her landscape paintings are not immediately recognizable, but Li is not concerned with capturing a single still image. She’s concerned with the process of painting.
The native of Beijing, China, who moved to the United States in 1983 and has been a professor of fine arts at Haverford College since 1997, attended an opening reception Wednesday for her exhibition at Wilkes-University’s Sordoni Gallery. “Geographies” is open through Dec. 18 and showcases Li’s expressionist depictions of landscapes in New York City, Colorado, Maine and Switzerland.
Li’s landscapes were featured in the New York Times, New Yorker and Art in America, and her most recent turn toward viscous, three-dimensional portrayals of her surroundings began after the death of her late husband, Michael Gasster, in 2012.
It started with a sketch staring out of Gasster’s favorite multi-paned window in his Manhattan study and developed into several series of panels depicting different views of the city through those panes.
The result is a vibrant grid of scenes from different seasons and times of day.
Li said the second series took into consideration construction rising before her in the city.
“The work grew along with what was growing outside my window,” Li said.
Her motif of revisiting the same landscape under different conditions and personal moods provided her an endless source of inspiration, she said.
“It’s like a Bach,” Li said. “It starts with a few chords and grows to different arrangements.”
Wilkes students Autumn Washington, 19, of Bethlehem, and Taillom Staudenmeier, 21, of Wilkes-Barre, see Li’s art as compelling.
“There’s something very intriguing about it, but I’m not exactly sure what it is,” Washington said.
Her recent work is less a depiction of what she sees and more a response to what she sees.
One of Li’s works, “Mystery City #1,” is based on the same city-scape but was done in response to the music of a colleague, Curt Cacciopo, in a sort of improvisational exercise in visual art that built out from the canvas in thick peaks.
“He sent me this CD and said, ‘Listen to it, and just do something,’” Li said. “The texture switches with the rhythm and mood. There are busy, dense areas and areas that are suddenly spare and tranquil. The contrast got me going.”
Li uses her palette knife as well as her brushes in broad strokes and she even squeezes paint from the tube to the canvas.
Her first direct application from the paint tube was when painting a scene of Cranberry Lake, in Maine.
“It was a result of frustration,” Li said. “I couldn’t paint a clean line, so I tried something new, and I said, ‘There, that’s a clean line.’”
Her depictions of Cranberry Lake range in color palette and texture as do the conditions she painted them in. One from an oppressively hot day depicts an almost melting image. One trying to capture crashing waves shows intensity and dynamism.
“When I first walked in I thought they were landscapes or impressionist paintings, but when I got close they had a three dimensionality that was really cool,” Staudenmeier said.
Li said she is trying to paint something impossible.
“What interests me is movement and change in nature instead of capturing something still,” Li said. “It’s not about describing or illustrating what I see. It’s about something more permanent.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts