Li Tianbing | Kaléidoscope

20 May - 21 June 2022

Opera Gallery has long championed the work of the contemporary Chinese painter Li Tianbing. It is an immense pleasure to see this collaboration culminate into an exclusive worldwide representation of the artist. In order to celebrate this new chapter, we are honoured to host the painter’s first solo exhibition in Opera Gallery Paris.


Li Tianbing is one of the first Chinese artists from his generation to address the theme of childhood in contemporary China. Born in 1974, hence during the Cultural Revolution, he is among millions of children who had no siblings due to the one-child policy (1979-2015) implemented by Deng Xiaoping. The young Tianbing thus grew up without a brother or sister, his father away serving in the army, and his mother much taken by her work. This profound solitude constitutes the very foundation of his pictorial work and his nearly obsessional exploration of the representation of an idealised childhood. Painting became, for Li Tianbing, a wonderful subterfuge to reinvent the past, including the brother he never had, and thus recreate a childhood in which he could have been surrounded by a multitude of playfellows.


Under the title Kaléidoscope, this exhibition presents a new ensemble of twenty-five never-before-seen paintings completed in his Los Angeles studio in 2021 and 2022. Through this series, Li Tianbing once again reconnects with his childhood, which is symbolised by the kaleidoscope, the only toy he had at the time. Through the kaleidoscope’s prismatic distortion, the painter proposes endless combinations of a fantasised set of siblings. “As a little boy, I found a whole other world in there,” he confided, “and what a colourful world it was! In this universe, there’s always several me and myselves, and they still speak to me 40 years later.” On his canvases, portraits representing him as a child are repeated along with imaginary brothers, in a cosmic whirl of colourful abstract shapes. The black-and-white faces seem trapped mid-air, as if suspended in time, seemingly unrelated in the end. Most of their piercing eyes look at the viewer, calling for our attention, questioning us about their condition, while also inviting us to join this mesmerising vortex.


In Chinese painting, the art of portraiture has acquired a moral significance over the course of time. In Li Tianbing’s work, it takes on a social and cosmopolitan value. The artist renews the genre by broaching the complex relation between identity and alterity in his Kaléidoscope series. This new, remarkably cohesive ensemble takes us into a world in which imagination, fantasy and reality respond to each other, conversing endlessly.


We would like to thank Li Tianbing for allowing Opera Gallery’s public to discover a new facet of his work, which has undergone continuous renewal throughout his career, offering them an unprecedented visual experience.