Criminal Breaks into Art Scene

This image shows the title piece from Li Yueuyang's Time Spent on display at Beijing's Arrow Factory art studio. (credit: Arrow Factory)

This image shows the title piece from Li Yueuyang’s Time Spent on display at Beijing’s Arrow Factory art gallery. (credit: Arrow Factory)

Former mafia tough guy, Li Yueyang, spent eight years in prison. The Chang’an local has now converted what was once violent energy into art in order to express his feelings from time spent in prison. His personal exhibition, Time Spent, is on display from October 5 to November 25 in Beijing’s Arrow Factory art gallery.

 “If you live like this for a period of time, your perspective will change.”

In the exhibition, Li reproduced a jail cell that would normally contain 12 inmates, but only showed one bed and one person’s personal items, such as a quilt and prison uniform. For Li, this was the only space that belonged to him, a tiny 1-meter-wide bed. “Creating this bed expresses a kind of mentality,” said Li. “If you live like this for a period of time, your perspective will change.”

Li gained a dangerous reputation in the 90s, when he worked as a loan shark, led a gang of 20 youngsters to open an underground casino, and helped others syndicates collect debts. In the last caper he organized in 1999, a kidnapping, his man was sentenced to death after he panicked and shot the victim. Li was given 13 years in prison, but was released five years early for good behavior. Since 2008, Li has studied with artist Li Jinghu who was an old friend and neighbor during their childhood. Though he paints, and sold a piece at a previous exhibition in Shanghai, he doesn’t consider himself an artist. “I think I want to express my mindset in a specific period of time, so I made these things,” he said.