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This article is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

Stella Halkyard Pictures from a Library
Pictures from the Rylands Library
45. ‘I shall not come to the end of its friendship’:
Li Yuan-chia in conversation with Winifred Nicholson
Stella Halkyard
THE PAINTER Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981) once gave an account of what she looked for in a work of art.  Her standards are exacting and precise: ‘I want a focal point, something alive and silent... If it is a true picture I will never grow tired of it... [it will be] a place where the harmony of space is giving its verdict. I like harmony to be expressed in colour... it must certainly be a picture of truth, not photographic nor realistic, the surfaces of appearances – but measure and rhythm and scale that are its inner essence’. Here Nicholson gives central importance to the ‘living, glowing, vibrating tones of the rainbow prism’ of abstract colour. And also nominates ‘tirelessness’ as an essential quality for ‘however familiar I have grown with it, I shall not come to the end of its friendship’.

On first glance, the two works of art shown here by the artist Li Yuan-chia (1929–1994) seem to have characteristics that preclude them from consideration as true pictures in Nicholson’s terms. Though resplendent with abstract colour they are also undeniably photographic. But living with them confirms their status as true pictures and the understanding that Nicholson, in particular, would not have spurned their friendship.  For they convey, in concrete form, a sense of the many conversations these two artists exchanged over the twenty years of their friendship and at some level represent Li Yuan-chia’s homage to the artistic achievements of his comrade in art.

Li Yuan chia, China’s first conceptual artist, met Winifred Nicholson, experimental British painter and ...


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