Yanzi River to Saint Mary's River

St. Mary’s College welcomed former artist-in-residence Ying Li back for a lecture on Wednesday, September 14. Li was born in Beijing and is now a professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. However, St. Mary’s College holds a special place in her heart. The campus has been inspiration for many of her paintings. She opened her talk by expressing her adoration for The Dove, a boat in Saint Mary’s River that caught her eye and served as the subject of one of her earlier paintings.

As a child, Li was sent to the countryside where she stayed for five years and began to find an interest in drawing. She says, “I loved doodling when I was a kid.” In the 70s, she returned home and her art career started making major advances.

A professor that was very fond of Ying Li helped her to get into college. When describing her inspiring and intriguing time studying art, she says, “I was in heaven in college. It’s an amazing thing.”

At the time, Ying Li believed that Chinese paintings didn’t have enough action or color, but she says her tastes have changed over time. Li showed the piece she originally created for her senior thesis set on the site of the Yanzi River. Construction of a bridge had begun, which she saw as symbolic for the new China. However, she was told the dress she had painted on the female was too tight and unrealistic for a business woman. Instead of changing her piece, she began a new one.

Li journeyed to the United States in 1983. Her first stop was Manhattan. When describing her experience in New York, she says “It’s like you walk into a fairytale.” For the first time, she got to see the real paintings of artists like Picasso and Matisse. She refers to them as “old friends [I’d] never met.”

Feeling homesick, she began painting Chinese-inspired works, which she had avoided when she was at home. She enrolled at Carson’s School of Design in New York, and her art changed dramatically yet again. She was sick of painting happy women with rosy cheeks. For this reason, she painted an American journalist with all of her flaws, including a big nose.

In 1997, she began her career teaching at Haverford, which is when Ying Li began landscape painting. She says one day she was painting, and she “started to feel like part of the landscape.” She adores the seasons and loves painting different weather. While painting in the snow one winter, her paint froze, but that still didn’t stop her from finishing the piece.

Her accomplishments have been printed in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The New York Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ying Li will be back at St. Mary’s College at an Open House in the Artist’s House on Mattapany Road. She will be here September 26 from 4:30-5:30 P.M. exhibiting her work. She’s extremely eager to chat with the students of St. Mary’s and encourages everyone to come.

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