The Four Elements of Leigh Li-Yun Wen

The Albany Institute of History and Art welcomed artist Leigh Li-Yun Wen, a world-renowned Taiwanese-American artist who currently resides in New York City on Tuesday with the opening of her newest exhibition. The gallery, titled “The Four Elements of Leigh Li-Yun Wen” is a vast showcase of Wen’s personal experiences and cultural connections to life in a beautiful exhibit exploring the four elements and related concepts. The retrospective exhibition showcases over 60 works including paintings, ceramics, fabrics, mixed media, and prints.

Entering the gallery, the viewer is quickly introduced to the main concept for the exhibit; the four elements of western cosmology – earth, air, fire, and water, with stunning paintings representing each. As I walk into the gallery I am overcome with the vibrant colors, and the sheer scale of her work as she takes us through a breathtaking journey of time and space using a unique style of painting in which she paints all the light colors first, applies the dark shades second, and then uses a stylus to carve away individual lines bringing forth the central concept of the piece. As I began wandering around the exhibit, a 36 ft oil on canvas painting, “Air M,” was certainly the first piece my eyes were drawn to. The vast size and scale alone are impressive, but what it took to create this painting is truly mind-boggling. Leigh Wen currently holds the record for the single largest canvas painting done by one artist, unfortunately, this was unable to be displayed due to the lack of wall space at the museum. However, “Air M” does not leave you wanting more as it is dynamic and seems to look different from every perspective. Every time I took it in from another angle, I saw something new. Another favorite for me in this room was “Mid Summer Morning Glim V.” This work represents the element Earth and was inspired by the view of the Taiwan mountains. The artist noted that green can be difficult to work with, but by using orange and yellow tones she was able to highlight the trees and curves of the mountainside in this work.

As you progress to the back of the gallery, you’re drawn to her flower series paintings. These large, beautiful flowers, done on plywood and hand-stretched canvas, provide a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dreary winter. The flowers are vibrant and bold, providing the perfect escape for anyone dreaming of spring. “Spring Earth VII” is another painting one must not miss in this section of the exhibit. When standing in front of the painting, I had the impression that she painted over dry flowers to give the texture in the depth of spring coming through a wintry scene; however, when asked what technique was used to create this painting, she explained that what appeared to be flowers was actually dried paint she had recycled from her pallet. Next to this painting are two paintings from the air series. These were both breathtaking and transported me out into the galaxy. I imagine that this is what I would see when looking up into the skies while standing in an alien world.

My favorite part of the exhibition was the final room bringing you back to the entrance of the gallery. As I explored the gallery I felt drawn back to this room over and over. In these paintings, the artist creates glaciers and water scenes and explores concepts related to global warming, as well as the elements of water and earth. “Iceberg V” was one of my favorite works in this room. It was created from a real-life image, a photo sent to her of an iceberg melting away at an alarming rate. I think this piece was not only beautiful but draws attention to the very important and relevant issue of climate change. Looking at the image I could almost see the water melting away and the turquoise center of the iceberg becoming more prominent. Wen’s style of scratching away lines from dark to light creates a depth and flow that truly mimics the natural elements of water.

In only 5000 sq. feet, Leigh Wen takes us around the world through a unique personal and cultural lens; from glaciers in the frozen north to the mountains of Taiwan. She even brings us home with “Olana,” a painting from her Hudson river series.

I highly recommend a trip to the Albany Institute of History & Art to see “The Four Elements of Leigh Li-Yun Wen.” Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and grab your official Leigh Wen mask! The exhibition runs from February 7, 2022, through June 19, 2022. The Albany Institute of History & Art is located at 125 Washington Avenue in Albany, New York. Free parking is available in the museum’s lot on the corner of Elk St. and Dove St. Museum hours are 10 am – 5 pm Wednesday through Saturday and 12-5 pm Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $6 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under 6.

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