Nature’s organic forms often serve as inspiration for Li’s works, and in Peony, a small Buddhist figure emerges from the unfurling petals of a blazing red peony flower. This is the first time the sculptor introduces the colour red to his Spiritual Journey Through the Great Ether series, the most successful and popular series of the artist, establishing a warm vibrant life force that engulfs his celestial being. Here, Li celebrates the beauty and purity of maternal love, using the peony as a metaphor for the experience of birth. Li captures the exact moment an innocent child leaves the womb and is born into the world. Indeed, the figure has yet to open its eyes, and thus exists as a pure, untainted entity. There is an extravagance in the undulating vermillion form, almost a throne cradling the newly born child, signifying the grand importance of this natural phenomenon.
Installation view, Being: In/Voluntary Drift – Li Chen Solo Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, 2017 (another example exhibited)
Both the peony, and the peony as a metaphor for woman, are creations of Mother Nature, ‘the purity of beginning of all things’ i. Dimitri Bruyas has also suggested that the peony implies the relationship between Gautama Buddha and the Lotus flower, ‘in which the Buddha was born in the world yet lived unsoiled by the world’ i. In this way, the sculpture ‘hints at the highest level of “Spirituality” in Li Chen’s dichotomy’ i.