Even if you’re unfamiliar with the best selling author and popular social scientist Malcolm Gladwell, you may have heard of his “10,000-hour rule.” Perhaps the most oft-referenced Gladwellism, the rule relates to the number of hours a person must practice a specific task in order to master it. According to Gladwell, those 10,000 hours are the key to success.
The skill and output of Jax-based artist Lili Yuan certainly represent a counterpoint to Gladwell’s rule. Popping with color and photo-realistic detail, Yuan’s art has been turning heads in Northeast Florida of late. But, as staggering as her accuracy and proficiency may be, it’s the fact that the 26-year-old has less than three years of painting practice under her belt that is perhaps the most mind-blowing.
Born and raised in Hangzhou, China, Yuan didn’t take a single art class until moving to Jacksonville and signing up for one at FSCJ. “The professor was like, ‘Oh, you’re so good.’ And I was like, ‘Really? OK!” she says, laughing.
I’m sitting with Yuan in her home studio near Ortega in Southwest Jax. There are a handful of canvasses of different sizes and in different states of completion scattered about. One offers an overhead view of a woman in a red dress, submerged in a rather tumultuous body of azure water, striking an incongruously relaxed pose. Another shows a woman parting two doors covered in psychedelic neon signage, removing (or putting on) a Kitsune mask. These are just two of nearly two dozen pieces—including paintings and photography—that will be on display at Bold Bean Coffee Roasters’ San Marco shop in November. Both feature eye-catching, bold use of color. Both are hyper-realistic.
The woman in red is part of a series Yuan is calling Flow Blue. The other comes from another series called Lost in Tokyo.
“These are two completely different styles based on two different cultures from my background, Eastern and Western,” Yuan says. Flow Blue she says comes from her experiences living in Florida, a place she says she identifies with water. “I can feel the freedom whenever I touch the water, something that has no shape, no color, no taste but fluid. I’m trying to show freedom in my pieces also remind people to enjoy every moment in their life.”
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Only 10 Days left!! 😳Time goes so fast!Sorry for the late flyer, seriously I’m not good at designing it so let’s make it simple but useful😬. . So yes, I’m going to have a solo art show, it will be in Jacksonville, FL. I came to Jax 3 yr ago, actually most people in here just know me on IG but have never met me in real tbh, cuz Im always working or traveling somewhere rather than showing up😅. But always wanna say thank you for all the support! So this time I’m going to show 13 pieces of my paintings and some of my photography works as well! I’m pretty nervous cuz it’s literally my first time to show that many! But also very excited cuz I’m gonna meet some of u in real soon💪🏻 . Also wanna say Thank You to @dustinharewood @crzzl @mabrush for everything! Sincerely❤️. . #abstractart #figurepainting #realismpainting #contemporaryart #popart #flyerdesign
While the paintings from Flow Blue are meditative and serene, those from Yuan’s Lost in Tokyo series show the busy, often manic energy of urban life. Yuan visited Tokyo nearly every year as a child, where she says urban photographers served as her first introduction to a creative life. “I call it ‘lost’ but on the contrary, it is all about ‘finding” and ‘discovery’ in my works. I might not be the one who is going to guide this world but I have to find myself and my passion.”
Collectively, Yuan is calling her show (her first ever as an artist) Carpe Diem. She’s also given it a Chinese name, 風花雪月 (translation: wind, flower, snow, moon), which Yuan says is a Chinese idiom for “enjoy everything in life.”
It’s been a mantra for Yuan, of late. After earning a degree in economics in China, she decided to come back to the US, based on the experience she had through an international studies program. “Coming here, I was so inspired by the lifestyle and culture; how people were pursuing different things that interested them, she says. “Growing up, I always did what my parents wanted me to do. Chinese kids, that’s what you do. Then after finishing my degree, I was really thinking, ‘What did I do with my past years?’”
She signed up for a range of classes at FSCJ, even considered pet grooming as a career path. Then she started painting.
“Lili is a true anomaly,” says FSCJ artist and FSCJ professor Dustin Harewood. After Harewood caught wind of Yuan’s burgeoning, newly tapped talents, he asked her to take an independent study course under his tutelage. “I’m convinced that she was a master artist in a previous lifetime, because there is an intense desire and focus there that is unexplainable.”
Yuan’s now working on her painting full time, preparing for her show and experimenting with abstract techniques and colors. She’s putting in a solid 15 hours a day. “If she doesn’t burn herself out, there’s no limit to how far she can take her art career,” Harewood says of Yuan.
If Yuan keeps it up, she’ll hit 10,000 hours soon enough. But it seems the young artist has already found the keys to success.
The opening reception for Carpe Diem | 風花雪月 (Wind Flower Snow Moon) is held from 6-8 p.m. Nov 9 at Bold Bean Coffee Roaster’s San Marco location, 1905 Hendricks Ave.
Other arts happenings we’re psyching on:
Maria Daitch’s “Coalesce & Undefine” @ Bold Bean Jax Beach
Maiya Elaine’s “Breach” @ Brew 5 Points
Shikeith’s “Imagining Flesh Through Shadows” @ JU
Through Our Eyes group show @ The Ritz Theatre and Museum
Alma Ramirez’s “By the Water” @ CAP
Jenny Hager-Vickery’s”Monumental Miniatures @ JIA
Madeleine Peck Wagner & Christine Chandler’s “Things of Flesh, Things of Spirit @ FSCJ
Book Launch: Tim Gilmore’s Channeling Anna Fletcher @ Karpeles Manuscript Museum
Dustin Harewood’s “Warm Rain and Electricity” @ VyStar Tower
This profile originally appeared as part of a feature called “The Art We’ll Need in 2019-2020” in Void Magazine Vol. 10, Issue 6.