The Chinese artist has been drawing out people's inner animals and turning them into incredible art. We talk to her about her process and inspiration for this unique series.
It's a fun dinner party game: asking each other, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?" So we were intrigued to see how Chinese artist Lihui Liang has been putting this concept into practice with her latest project, Animal Religion.
Inspired by her clients, Lihui has created a vibrant world occupied with animals with exceptional abilities. Put simply, Lihui transforms her portrait subjects into animals, each with unique strengths and qualities.
The chosen animal is selected not by instinct but following in-depth interviews and time spent with the subject, allowing Lihui to understand their personality, interests, and beliefs deeply.
"I dive deep into their passion from within and figure out who they really are, outside of the normal social constraints," she explains. "Sometimes, I lead them into a meditation session and take them into an alternative world where they can feel comfortable saying what they truly want.
"They are pleased to sit for me and find it special as my portrait is personal," she adds. "It's a collaborative experience that is created together. I tried to capture their inner essence rather than merely their physical appearance. Some of them use my pictures for their profile pictures, and one asked me to print on a T-shirt."
These stunning paintings harness a childlike perspective and vivid imagination to build a bridge for her sitter to see a greater part of themselves.
Drawing on a colour palette that's distinctively Lihui, they don't just reveal hidden depths to the sitters; they also make a broader point in challenging how we all perceive ourselves. As such, these portraits become truly timeless pieces of art.
Who is Lihui?
The series is typically groundbreaking work from Lihui Liang, who was born in Beijing, China, and now lives in London. She began her artistic journey in 2017 after graduating from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where she developed a keen interest in people's unique stories and dreams, particularly those who are authentic and stand out from the crowd.
"My style is counter-realism," she explains. "It's abstract but familiar and bridges between the real and the surreal."
As an artist, Lihui is committed to empowering people and helping them to connect with their true purpose in life. Her use of mythology and symbolism creates portraits that are beautiful and deeply transformative, offering viewers a glimpse into their inner selves and helping them to rediscover their true identities.
Lihui's work is a testament to the transformative power of art. Through her portraits, she invites viewers to explore their inner worlds, connect with their true selves, and rediscover their sense of purpose and meaning. With each new portrait, Lihui continues to push the boundaries of traditional portraiture, creating works of art that are both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.
To illuminate her process, she talks us through one particular portrait, entitled: 'Cheetah, Portrait of Chris, Lihui Liang, 30 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2023'.
"Cheetah (Chris) had grown up on the island of Tasmania, part of Australia," explains Lihui. "He always had a passion for filmmaking, but he found pursuing his dreams in his hometown difficult. People around him spent their days discussing properties, unnecessary family issues, and mundane things. He often felt like an outsider because he was different from those around him and was frustrated by their lack of ambition and problem-solving skills."
She met Chris in London while he was making his debut sci-fi adventure film. "We had interesting conversations about creativity and the philosophy of life. Chris believes that by connecting with other citizens in the universe, we as a collective could achieve immortality. I created his portrait as a reminder of his passion for writing and filmmaking, with the cheetah symbolizing his strength and ability to explore and move forward among the crowd. The two cats, Molly and Dorito, embody his life energy."