Karsten Greve Presents Qiu Shihua, A Study in White
This year marks his second exhibition with the gallery, which will run from 1 September to 6 October at their Paris space.
Conjuring up paintings that converge at the fringes of visibility and invisibility, Qiu Shihua emerges as one of the more prolific Chinese landscape painters of his time, first debuting in the European art scene in 1999 with Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland. Since then, Qiu has gone on to display his works in several prominent galleries and museums in the Western art world, including a solo show entitled ‘Calme’ with Galerie Karsten Greve in 2015. This year marks his second exhibition with the gallery, which will run from 1 September to 6 October at their Paris space.
A Study in White
Born in 1940 in Zizhong, China, Qiu’s education in the sixties at the Xi’an Art Academy was marked by both China’s isolation from the West, and a Socialist Realism derived directly from both Soviet and traditional Chinese artistic influences. Upon graduation, his career coincided with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which was met by a nascent growth in Cynical Realism, an artistic movement propagated by figures such as Liu Wei and Fang Lijun. Unlike the other contemporary Chinese artists of his time, however, Qiu steered away from his immediate social milieu, positioning himself instead as a figurative painter.
Taking influence from his encounters with French Impressionism, alongside his traditional Chinese training, his works evoke atmospheric and veiled tones while elucidating the introspective nature of landscape painting. In particular, the latter is couched in his practice of Taoism, otherwise known as the teaching of Tao, or “the Way”. Each landscape is thus a mere motif or iteration but not an ends to itself. The signal at a deeper underlying force that guides Qiu’s process: just as how the Way eludes precise articulation and understanding, the subjects that surface in Qiu’s paintings escape direct confrontation, existing merely as possibilities.
In any gallery setup, Qiu’s canvases of white paint, idiosyncratic of his oeuvre beginning from the early eighties, are easy for the untrained eye to dismiss as prima facie empty figurations adorning equally blank walls. Initially foreboding, each painting seems to present a monolithic void that gazes stoically back at the viewer. Yet, the apparent simplicity of the paintings conceals a depth of layers, formed by precise and sensitive gestures that cloak the works with an interplay of light and shadows. In fact, there is nothing easy or apparent about Qiu’s works. By presenting audiences with a disorienting nothingness, the works demand concentration and patient meditation. It is only then that the shadowy landscapes encompassing trees or seascapes, illuminated by vestibules of light, are revealed calmly to perception, fading away from view as quickly as they emerge.
As such, Qiu’s pieces resist copy in a Benjamin age of mechanical reproduction. Rather, it is almost necessary to view his pieces with the naked eye, since photographic or illustrated mediums tend to dilute his works into a miry whiteness, making it impossible to discern otherwise. Yet, landscapes are not the only thing that each painting holds, and whiteness is not the only hue that materialises on the canvas. Lighting shone onto each piece can sometimes divulge subtle inflections of varying colours that the whiteness itself comprises: tones of pale greys, blues, pinks and yellows punctuate what was once invisible to the eye.
Qiu’s showcase in 2015 at Galerie Karsten Greve marked his first French solo exhibition in ten years and was an extensive display of selected pieces from his oil on canvas paintings produced between 2000 and 2013. The upcoming exhibition at the gallery will build upon that showcase, where 20 new works created between 2013 to 2016 will be displayed, including some never seen before works. One can only await in contemplation then, for what these new works might possibly reveal to audiences come September.