In the four-month presentation of a case-study on Qiu Xiaofei’s practice, we have adopted two different structural and narrative approaches to Qiu Xiaofei’s recent works. The spiraling path he has taken over the last two decades of painting practice explores and pursues the medium’s significance.
Qiu Xiaofei’s practice, often inspired by memories of his family and everyday experience yet unhinged by these immediate images, explores the stream of consciousness and thoughts beneath these phenomena.
Red was completed during the first half of 2020 when a global pandemic ravaged the world. On its dazzling sky painted in crimson red, bright, and ambiguous bibulous forms constellate, some look like celestial bodies or body organs. A figure sits at the center of the painting, a sculptured figure whose physical appearance, age, and gender have been obscured. He/she opens up his/her left arm, while part of the right one has been broken off, his/her large hand looks like a wing. The face and body exhibit solid and hefty weight, makes one think of dappled and withered plaster sculpture. The legs are rendered with flat color surfaces and brisk brushwork. In front of the figure, between the pools of colors and spirals, we seem to identify some forms, architecture, ghosts, tombstones, mountain, and water, in the impression of “ruins.”
The figure in this painting comes from Qiu Xiaofei’s 2009 painting, Indigo. Over those years, Qiu Xiaofei worked on several paintings related to mentally ill patients, exploring the relationship between social reality and people’s spiritual world. Indigo portrays a mentally ill patient with arms spread wide as if he’s “dreaming” in one’s self-consciousness. Although the sculptural figure whose arm is broken off may seem repressed, it suggests a religious-like spiritual experience. In a recent conversation between the New Century Art Foundation and Qiu Xiaofei, the artist mentioned, “Human beings are fickle-minded, fearful and anxious creatures, and the appeal of painting today may have something to do with the flaws of the human species.”
In this painting, the artist makes extensive use of translucent colors. The relationship between the colors is not entirely hidden and covered, so different colors would appear through the overlapping layers, resulting in vibrant and integrated imagery. The artist has adopted various brushstrokes to shape and paint, which reveal his experience in fumbling with abstract images in the previous years.
Trotskyky Grew into a Tree is both the title of the second phase of the exhibition and Qiu Xiaofei’s recent small painting. This enigmatic title implies a rich subtext. It takes ten to twenty years for a tree to grow, and this time coincides with Qiu Xiaofei’s creative path presented in this exhibition. How a political symbol takes on everyday and growing nature suggests the artist’s multi-dimensional transformation and exploration from image to language.
Many works from different periods of the artist’s creative process are presented in a non-linear, hybrid, and interconnected manner, attempting to reveal the artist’s continuous self-transcendent work that involves moving forward and looking back. They are like windows, suspended on both sides of a wall with architectural forms. Those who walk along the wall are like watching a film montage, where one discovers the narrative and the allegorical through its skipping and reciprocating process. The wall seems to separate the outside (the external world) from the inside (the spiritual world). Still, the relationship between subject and object is continually shifting to bring both sides together. Through these “windows,” one sees the “scenery” outside of a vantage point, and ultimately, these “scenes” constitute a “landscape” with energy and morphological transformed “ecology.”
In a series of early works created to reproduce media images or old objects, the images are metaphors for distinctive themes, bearing witness to the primary sources that shaped the artist’s thinking. At the same time, we cannot overlook the strong sense of materiality these paintings themselves possess. Thereon, the metaphorical nature of the images and the paintings’ materiality have become Qiu Xiaofei’s objects of interest to explore through his works. More precisely, his practice probes how an image conveys its metaphorical undertone through the painting’s materiality, rather than just a symbol?
For Qiu Xiaofei, the meaning of a painting is often akin to practicing religion, and behind the language of painting is a discussion of issues closely related to human existence: on rationality, society, death, growth. These fundamental problems of humankind are transformed into colors and images that emerge from different material backgrounds. Painting becomes a way to slowly understand the world, even creating worlds that we cannot yet understand.