The next Ai Weiwei? Li Songsong mixes art and politics in thick layers of paint

Story highlights

  • Li Songsong is an artist who touches upon Chinese politics
  • Using thick layers of oil paint he invokes recent moments in China's history

This video is a segment from the CNN Style show.

Beijing, China (CNN)Faced with certain censorship, artists in China are forced to be careful in how they express themselves. Ai Weiwei knows as much, but he's not the only one.

Ai is a trailblazer for China's contemporary art scene, but a number of artists are also attracting global attention. Chief amongst them is Li Songsong, a man who is not shy about mixing art and politics.
    Working out of a former industrial district in Beijing known as "798", Li's canvases allude to moments in China's recent past, bringing them to the surface once more in hazy layers of thick oil paint. Moments from the Cultural Revolution to the 2004 National People's Congress; moments alive in China's collective conscience.
    "[He] is a great example of an incredibly skilled painter who has a very deep sensitivity for Chinese history" says Phil Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.
    "He's always looking in his source material for unexpected images that shed new light on what, to many people, is a well-trodden path of the 20th century. He's always using these images to subvert our understanding of history."
    "I chose those pictures for a very simple purpose: I want to know what's happened before," says Li, "I want to find something a little different to what we get in education."
    It's an approach that has seen him exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery and censured by the Chinese government, who refused to export his portrait of Kim Jong Un last year.
    Tinari says because contemporary art can complicate and confound, obscuring its meaning, it is not as tightly regulated as other mediums. As a result art "is allowed a bit more leeway than other forms."
    Li is optimistic. "I think it's a good time [in Chinese art at the moment]," he argues.
    "Not because this generation or younger people are better... [but] people [have] more opportunity to show their talent."
    "For artists in China it's a very good time to learn."