In a typical painting by Qiu Shihua (邱世华), what first appears as a blank canvas reveals itself to the careful observer as a delicately executed landscape shrouded in layers of pale paint. Requiring sustained gaze to reveal their contents, the works contain natural forms such as tufts of grass, trees or the line of a mountain ridge.
The careful balance between absence and presence in Qiu’s works is in line with his Taoist beliefs, which place importance on the harmonious interaction between opposite forces in the cosmos. To achieve this balance, Qiu first applies the outline of a scene in a dark colour before obscuring it with multiple layers of semi-transparent oil paint.
Born in 1940 in Zhizhong in China’s Sichuan province, Qiu completed his training in oil painting at Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts in 1962. At the time of his graduation, Qiu’s painting style closely followed the stylistic tenets of Socialist Realism. Throughout the Cultural Revolution and up until 1984, the artist worked painting posters for a cinema in Tongchuan.
Travel has been markedly impactful on Qiu’s style. In 1988, Qiu went to the Gobi Desert, which influenced the development of his vast, open scenes. After travelling to Europe in the early 1990s, Qiu began moving away from the traditional Shan Shui style (a method of Chinese landscape painting that dates from as early as the Tang Dynasty [618–907]) to embrace new aesthetic approaches. This shift was most distinct in his decision to use oil paint over ink or aquarelle, along with his intentional obscuring of the scene.
From afar, Qiu’s minimalist rendering might be interpreted by a Western eye as monochromes in the vein of Robert Rauschenberg or Yves Klein. Yet Qiu’s work, through its combination of Eastern and Western approaches, rejects approximation to one specific style or movement. Instead, Qiu offers viewers quietly ambivalent images—asserted in his decision to leave all of his works untitled—that provide the visual space for a moment of meditation. Time is thus a crucial component of the viewing experience of Qiu’s work, in a similar manner to the time required before an image might appear when processing a photograph in a darkroom.
www.ftn-books.com has now the 1999 Kunsthalle Basel catalogue available.