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Xiang Li’s Art of Storytelling Through Creative Watercolor Portraits

Xiang Li Art Creative Portraits

I mentioned previously in one of my blog posts that my fascination with Xiang Li’s artwork began after seeing a special set of creative portraits in her studio. These are portraits of well-known American personalities painted in watercolor on 100% silk. It’s not only her skills I find mesmerizing, but also the stories behind these portraits that made me want to dedicate this article to share with you all.

Xiang Li got to know these personalities as guests on her daughter Fei Wu’s podcast (Feisworld). Fei is a very dear friend of mine so I was very fortunate to get a tour of these portraits in her mom’s art studio recently. Xiang Li has painted 20 such watercolor portraits.

Three portraits that I am going to talk about in this blog post are of Seth Godin, Krista Tippett and Fei Wu (yes, the artist’s daughter).

About Seth Godin and Krista Tippett

Seth Godin is a renowned marketing guru who has also written many remarkable books like the Purple Cow and What To Do When It’s Your Turn. You can read more about Seth Godin and his work on his website here.

Krista Tippett is an influential American journalist, the creator of the highly acclaimed podcast ‘On Being’ and was awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014. You can read more about Krista Tippett on her podcast’s website here.

Source of Images above: Google Image Search (Creative Commons license)

What is the connection between Fei Wu, Seth Godin, Krista Tippett and artist Xiang Li?

Above: Fei Wu standing in front of Xiang Li’s creative watercolor portraits. Below: Artist Xiang Li at her exhibition at the Worcester Arts Museum. With Fei Wu’s portrait in the background.

For starters, all four of them are creators, each specializing in his or her own craft.

Fei Wu considers Seth Godin and Krista Tippett as her favorite mentors and teachers. She highly values her relationship with them and the opportunity to interview them both separately for her podcast (Krista Tippett in 2016 and Seth Godin in 2018). Li decided to create their portraits using her unique Chinese watercolor technique, as a tribute to this special connection that her daughter feels for them.

These portraits are unlike traditional portraits where the subject sits down for the artist to paint him or her. Li has not met Seth Godin and Krista Tippett in person. She created their portraits by developing her own understanding of their personas by studying their photographs and works from the media and learning about them from Fei. And hence I call them ‘creative’ portraits.

About the Creative Watercolor Portraits

Seth Godin’s Portrait

Left: Seth Godin’s portrait, titled: Go! (short for ‘Go Make a Ruckus’). Right: Xiang Li at work with his portrait

Li’s watercolor-on-silk portrait of Seth Godin captures the essence of the prolific author, entrepreneur, and marketing guru. Godin’s ideas have ignited minds worldwide, challenging conventional thinking. In my interpretation of this portrait, Godin’s eyes reflect curiosity, determination, and the courage to stand out and challenge the conventional—a fitting tribute to his groundbreaking work.

The Chinese characters on the painting mean “Take Off” or “Go”. This title is inspired by his favorite sendoff – ‘Go, Make a Ruckus’.

The painting of the raven on his shoulder is inspired by the logo of Seth Godin’s altMBA course (Fei is an alumnus). However, I had a hunch that there was a deeper spiritual meaning to the raven. I was curious to find out more and took some help from Microsoft copilot to do the research. Below is the summary of what I found. Such a beautiful significance of the raven sitting on Seth Godin’s shoulder in this portrait!

Krista Tippett‘s Portrait

Left: Krista Tippett’s portrait titled: All Birds Looking up to the Phoenix. Right: Xiang Li at work with her portrait

In this portrait, it appears as though Krista Tippett, is emerging very brilliantly yet soothingly from the silk canvas. The delicate but strong brush strokes reveal Tippett’s unwavering commitment to exploring life’s profound questions as she exhibits in her interviews with various scholars and newsmakers on her show. Her serene expression hints at inner contemplation.

Li aptly named this portrait in Chinese meaning “all birds looking up to the Phoenix.” The Phoenix symbolizes Krista Tippett, while we—the listeners—are the birds inspired by her wisdom and poetry.

The Phoenix symbolizes virtue, courtesy, benevolence, love, and faith in traditional Chinese culture (referenced from Microsoft copilot). The flowers express her audience’s (specifically Fei and Xiang Li’s) respect for Krista and for her work.

As I was writing this blog post, I found out to my very pleasant surprise, that Krista Tippett had also interviewed Seth Godin on one of her episodes of the ‘On Being’ podcast. You can check out the episode here.

Fei Wu‘s Portrait

Left: Fei Wu’s portrait titled: Boundless Love. Right: The portrait shown at Xiang Li’s exhibition at Worcester Art Museum in May 2024

As a podcaster and creator, Fei embodies the spirit of curiosity and connection with people. Xiang Li created this piece to also acknowledge and celebrate their mother-daughter collaboration as creators and artists.

Fei, who not only supports Li’s work as an artist but she also runs her media company, Feisworld, helping others in need to launch their projects and businesses. I have known Fei as a dear friend for 17 years and I have seen her compassionate nature both personally and professionally. In this portrait, I see Fei as the ‘queen of hearts’ emerging out of the silk canvas, reaching out to the viewers with a touch of kindness and love.

According to Li, the dogs are prominent in this painting because of their spiritual significance of boundless love, nurturing and protection.

Li named this painting “Boundless Love.” It means love beyond your immediate family and I cannot think of a better title for this portrait!

In Conclusion: What do we learn from Xiang Li’s Creative Watercolor Portraits?

Xiang Li’s watercolor-on-silk portraits are more than visual representations; they are creative storytelling through symphony of colors, careful brush strokes and spiritual dialogues. As we gaze upon these portraits, we see many hidden truths of life and the interconnectedness of all things. Li’s art invites us to pause, reflect, and recognize the sacredness of our shared humanity and the creative essence within ourselves and others.

We would love to hear from you about your reactions and interpretations of these portraits. Watch this space for more on Li’s other portraits and an update about an upcoming exhibition where you can see them in person!

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