A Portrait of Grief with Li Volk

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Pictured: The Big Catch, charcoal on paper, by Li Volk.

Hundreds of artists gather in New York City tonight, as the 16th International ARC Salon begins its 10-day celebration of the realist tradition with a combined exhibition and auction. Paintings will be sold, awards will be given, and Sarasota-trained artist Li Jian Volk will be attending for the first time, accompanying three of her works that have been selected for inclusion from the more than 5,400 entries the competition saw this year. (Little more than 1,000 were ultimately selected.) One of them, a charcoal drawing of a scene from the Cortez fishing village, even won an award. And though the award will say “Honorable Mention,” it will mean much more to Volk.

A former student and now regular at the Miano Academy of Art, formerly The Southern Atelier, Volk paints in the old ways, emphasizing anatomic exactitude and studying the realist techniques of the Renaissance Masters. And when visiting artist Huihan Liu took Volk and other students to the Cortez fishing village, they spent a whole week conducting research, making sketches, interviewing fishermen and even jumping aboard to see the whole messy process from catch to crate. “We try to find real life,” says Volk, noting that the same thing can be seen in China, where artists still look for the old fishing villages not yet consumed by the tides of industry. “All cultures have that kind of thing,” she says. Her resulting drawing, a charcoal rendering of a lonely fish gasping in a slab of sunlight carved from the darkened interior of a Cortez fishing house, she named “The Big Catch.” She submitted it for competition in early 2022.

Before the year was over, she had sworn off art.

“I stopped doing art for 10 months,” Volk says. “I was quitting.” A personal tragedy had rocked the foundations of her world and cracked its firmament. Art made no sense. She stopped drawing. She stopped seeing her artist friends. She went to a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and stayed for a month, learning again how to meditate and how to be present. She learned the power of compassion and the beauty of impermanence. And when she came home, she found a letter waiting for her: “The Big Catch” had won an international award. Volk took it as a sign. “That my artist’s road isn’t over yet,” she says. “And that I’d be able to carry on.” She started drawing again immediately.

Now reinvigorated and refocused, Volk returns to the canvas with a calling, wanting to share the lessons she’s learned in the last year, to become the artist she was meant to be. “I’m not young,” she says, “but I’m a young artist. And I’ve figured out my purpose.”

Pictured: Pictured: The Big Catch, charcoal on paper, by Li Volk.

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