The artist Qiu Deshu has, for his lengthy career, created works that reference and recontextualize the traditional arts of his native China. The painter has likened the development of his artistic language, which folds in elements of seal carving and scroll mounting, to the way “impressionist and post-impressionist artists used the basis of academic oil paintings to make breakthroughs, their own style extracted from cultural legacies.”
Now, four decades of Qiu’s work forms an expansive solo show at Pearl Lam Galleries, curated by Philip Dodd, the former director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. “Night and Day,” which includes some of Qiu’s classic works as well as more recent paintings, showcases the evolution of his signature style—one that was born in Shanghai, where the artist grew up, and crystallized during China’s tumultuous 1980s.
Inspired by the lengthy cracks that appear in concrete sidewalks and seeing in them a symbol of entropy, destruction, and rebirth, he developed the technique for these works, which he calls “fissure” paintings. (The show’s name also evidences his interest in dualities—night and day, yin and yang, says the artist, are interchangeable metaphors for life’s journey.) To create these paintings, Qiu works with traditional inks—often the central element of traditional Chinese painting—and Xuan (rice) paper, which he tears and arranges on canvas, carefully spacing the parts to create visible cracks. In a delicate layering process, Qiu then adds further elements to the paintings, rubbing and carving as he goes, washing the paper in soft hues. The resulting works highlight the original breaks between paper, giving the paintings a multidimensional, textured feel.
While Qiu, classically trained, uses China’s traditional arts in unexpected ways, he is careful to show his respect for the techniques he uses, and to downplay the connotations of damage his fissure paintings might have. “Fission is a kind of subversion and damage,” he has said, “while recreation is my ultimate aim. I want to establish (some new) medium and concept, to help develop art and not to destroy it.”
“Night and Day: The Art of Qiu Deshu” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, May 29–Jul. 21, 2015.
“The Art of Fissuring” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore, Jun.13–Aug. 2, 2015.