At first glance, the paintings of Chinese artist Qiu Shihua seem to be monochrome, completely white canvases. Yet upon closer inspection, vast landscapes emerge from the painted surface which, depending on where the viewer is standing, either reveal an increasing number of details or slip away again before his eyes. Only through long, intense examination is it possible gain a full perception of Qiu Shihua’s complex white paintings. With this mode of representation, the artist categorically questions the moment of visibility in painting. Qiu Shihua’s white landscapes oscillate between the Western idea of abstraction and reduction on the one side, and the far Eastern Taoist concepts of repetition and emptiness on the other. During his first trip to Europe in 1984, Qiu Shihua discovered Claude Monet and his artistic movement, in which impressions are key. “What I do here […] will simply be the impression of what I, and only I, have felt,” said Monet, and Qiu Shihua has appropriated this concept. He translates memories inspired by “natural atmospheres”, as did William Turner in his late works. Qiu Shihua finds his inspiration in Shanshui, a pictorial tradition that appeared during the 4th century in Southern China. A Shanshui painter does not seek to create an illusory or realistic representation, sometimes working without ever having seen the landscape that they are painting. What matters is to paint the sensations that the idea of the sight brings to the spirit. Qiu Shihua stays true to this ancient pictorial tradition from his country, keeping to its visual language: the absence of linear perspective and the rhythm of blank patterns to engage viewers in active contemplation. He goes further in that quest and reappropriates Shanshui through Western techniques, preferring to use oils rather than the traditional ink. The result is unique – neither landscape nor total abstraction, a fusion of the ancestral and the contemporary, the Western and the Eastern.
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