Working on a regular schedule of one large-scale exhibition every two years, each with some dozen works of considerable size, Qin Qi astonishes with his productivity as well as the quality of his work. In this latest exhibition, most work for which was produced in 2014, the enclosed space of the ground floor is arranged like a parlor, displaying portraits and still lifes approximately one meter square. Placed along the sides of long dining or meeting tables and hung on the walls of the room, the space feets like a collector’s living room. Paintings like Bing and Doctor Wei appear just as traditional portraits might be displayed in casual living spaces, but these works differ drastically both in the compositional relationships between figures and objects and in coloration, creating a feeling of exaggerated oddness.

Adult and Baby Elephants, 2014, Oil on canvas, 230 x 260 cm
Adult and Baby Elephants, 2014, Oil on canvas, 230 x 260 cm

This feeling is enhanced in the large-scale works presented in the open gallery space upstairs. He continues his still life work with FU KE in the Portfolio, which adopts the tight framing and flat space with which Qin is familiar. He maintains a unique sense of humor in the similarity between the objects he depicts with an absurd yet internally consistent logic, as with the name of Foucault, the French philosopher, romanized in Mandarin Pinyin on the cover of a book. Beginning with Hooded Painter, the artist himself quietly enters the composition in the corner of the painting, glancing at a table of still life objects. He is situated flat with the foreground, a composition inconsistent with the visual logic of one-point perspective. Qin casually isolates himself in a distinct space through the use of vertical and diagonal lines, balancing two different spaces on a single flat plane. Stray human figures also appear in Huilan’s Goose and Adult and Baby Elephants, in which the artist breaks down the hierarchies of figure painting by interpreting people as objects with an almost Cubist logic.

In contrast to Qin Qi’s last solo show, this exhibition sees the reappearance of portraiture. They are painted, however, with the same syntax he has employed since Captain (2006): those portrayed appear as objects in still life. In the two Lamas paintings, stupas, mountains in the distance, and clouds occupying the upper part of the composition appear up front, alongside the muscular horses and Lamas engaged in conversation. Clouds in expressive ocher and brown are painted—together with the horses’ muscles, the Lamas’ arms, and the folds in their Tibetan robes—in big blocks of contrasting color with obvious light and shade, creating an almost mythical aura. In addition, the Lamas’ faces, like the face of the figure holding a baby in the foreground of Adult and Baby Elephants, are handled in a rather comical way. Qin prefers bright colors and exaggerated objects in some of his past work as well, but rarely to such extremes; one is reminded of the Fauvist pursuit of three-dimensional space and classical perspective for color blocks, lines, and planes. Where the Fauves sought inspiration from African and Central and South American “primitive” art, Qin visited Tibet and Southeast Asia in preparation for this body of work. Contrary to the charge that his work appears in a state of suspension and exploration, the artist has actually mastered a stable state of practice; he remains keen to explore the formal boundaries of painting from the inside.

Xi Winkler (Translated by Yao Wu)