From June 15 through November 15, 2018, the ninth case study exhibition of contemporary artist held by the United Ar Museum in Wuhan, brings forth “Into Ashes” featuring the latest works by Liu Qinghe, who is one of representative artists of contemporary ink and wash paintings. This exhibition was curated by Lu Hong, Executive Director of United Art Museum and exhibits span the three galleries of the Museum showcasing about 100 artworks. The exhibition is divided into four thematic units: “Make–up”, “Red Wall”, “Grey %” and “Vernacular”, except for the “Vernacular” series was created in 2014, the rest units belong to his recent works Liu created in 2017 and 2018, some of which are his masterpieces in large size. In addition to his paintings, there are also some of Liu Qinghe’s manuscripts and creative literature on display.
The installation with the sense of immersive theatre “Make–up” is the highlight of this exhibition and Liu Qinghe once again demonstrated his strong ability in managing space and emotional narrative. Gallery One has been meticulously constructed into a “Make–up” stage, with more than two dozen of works “overhanging” on the four gray walls, forming a dime space and the atmosphere seems to be more ambiguous under the lights. These figures and sets hung on the wall were not made out of ready-made products, but the paintings were drawn by the artist with ink and wash, men, women, the elder, children, crickets, doors and windows, meteorites, green worms were cut and pasted, hung on the walls, wrapped by iron wires round these objects.
Quite a few audience felt uneasy and alert when they stepped into the gallery, and it is quite difficult to tell what kind of relationship between the audience and characters emerged one by one in this space: observing and being observed, peeping and being peeped, all intertwined with each other. Such a display tries to bring fresh and sophisticated experience to the audience, just as Fan Di’an, President of CAFA commented that “in the entire exploration of contemporary Chinese ink and wash paintings, this is a brand new case and method, which also make us feel excited as we could experience the visual shocking of ink and wash languages.
The “Red Wall” series in the Gallery One showcases the artist’s thinking on the mental state of human beings in the current society. “Bid Bed”, “Burning Day” or “Red Wall” seem to be talking about the barrier between the innermost and the outside world; “Grey %” is the largest painting Liu Qinghe has created in two years, it has been enveloped in a gray tone, and the boundaries in the image are indistinct, showing a kind of return to the true nature of ink and wash; most of the works belong to the “Vernacular” series are in small size, depicting the growth trajectory of an individual in the social background in a chronological way, waving the fragments of memories while stitching the map of consciousness. These small-size paintings in the comic type, the giant paintings the artist are good at, the three-dimensional mixed painting installation, four-space group paintings jointly constitute a sense of rhythm of cadence.
Into Ashes: An Attitude towards Life and Involved in the World
“Into Ashes” has been referred from Lao Tzu’s “Dao De Jing”: “Threatening its sharpness, solving its turbulence, and combined with its light, into its ashes, which is what so-called harmony. It means that it does not reveal its appearance, dissolve disputes, preserve glories and submerge into the world, to achieve the subtle harmony. Then there was another description by “Book of Jin: with light and dust, with time to spread the scrolls. It referred to a peaceful way of living: transforming into ashes while conforming to the times. The title of this exhibition reminds the audience of the fatalism of the middle-aged: although life is like a drama, but with kinds of appearances in costume and make-up, all will eventually be ashes to ashes, dust to dust, falling into chaos and stillness.
In retrospecting Liu Qinghe’s recent creations from “Emergence”(2010) to “Sunflower” (2013), as to “Vernacular”(2014), and “Into Ashes”(2018), we can clearly find the artistic context of Liu Qinghe. And his creative psychology has also changed quietly with his aging. Contrary to the ambiguity and sharpness he experienced when he was young, he admitted that he tired to “find a sense of direction in uncertainty”. He repeatedly mentioned his hesitation and irresolution, the “irresistible” nature within his life, made him have to “cave in” and slow down.
“On the road ‘into ashes’, even if I find surprises, creation is conceived in my daily work.” The general sensation like maxim was placed on a huge panel and hung over the entrance to the exhibition hall. The artist who were still looking back at the past a few years ago, have finally felt that in the irreversible experience of life, “the prelude will be opened and will eventually come to an end.” No matter how many decorations and glories will eventually turn into a silent gray and turn into nihility. From the state of persistent anxiety that has been going on for many years, to a certain degree of mildness, Liu Qinghe does not deny that there are age-related factors. This kind of chewing process can accumulate unexpected power and generate new ideas and themes. This proves that the evolution of personal existence and thinking patterns will definitely lead to the change of creative thinking. At this time, Liu Qinghe, who is good at “narratives,” like a master of storytelling, hummed through the twists and turns of his thoughts and emotions, condescended in a scene, calmed down in a scene, and deeply affectionate in a scene.
To Break the Inertia, Is It Necessary to Cover the Familiar with the Fresh?
In people’s cognition, Liu Qinghe’s artistic practice has always revolved around the exploration of ink and wash language. Although he always expected to create some different spatial experiences in past exhibitions, he has never left the research of ink ontology. Therefore, it is easy for him to leave an impression that he was constantly relying on experience to draw. Even if some changes are created, they still belong to the internal adjustment of homogenous experience, rather than a thorough change of system.
Probably the limit of painting also causes the artist to fall into thinking, so his heart is often in a state of self-examination. This may be one of the sources of his entanglement and stress. He tried to break the inertia he had been, but he soon discovered that the “extraordinary” attempt was not much different from the pleasure brought by the painting itself. When he realized this, he decided firmly to cut out those so-called freshness that could not meet the inner needs. However, he returned to another tangle and hesitation: “Is it necessary to cover the experience once familiar with the so-called new content?” This became a new question.
For quite a long time, Liu Qinghe’s artistic practice was in a state of fragmentation, and it was difficult to truly break into a theme, as the fragmentation and disintegration of life. Gradually, these fragments merge several face-oriented feelings and gradually become a whole. He suddenly discovered that his hesitation did not make him lose the sensitivity and creativity in paintings. Without fear of daily trivialities, experience and thinking will slowly grow and change, and ultimately be referred to as the so-called “mystery.” This process is coherent with the pace of “into ashes”.
The Sensibility of Present Life is the Most Important Thing in Art
If you want to tease out the important nodes of Liu Qinghe’s artistic career, the “Emergence” plan of the Suzhou True Color Museum must be revisited. On the one hand, this exhibition reflects his deep anxiety about the “nature of contemporary” in paintings. On the other hand, it has prompted him to return to the tradition, return to the sketch, and return to painting. Such “over-corrected” has come from the realization of the Suzhou-style scheme full of “contemporary senses” and suddenly it has become a huge emptiness and boredom. Liu Qinghe really started to know what he was suitable for and what he wanted, just as he laughed and said: “It’s still suitable to close the door and make something affectedly unconventional.”
As an ink-and-wash artist, the contemporary transformation of traditional art, the position and significance of painting in contemporary art will inevitably cause artists to be trapped in thinking. Liu Qinghe gradually found his “contemporary” language since the 1990s, which is the biggest feature of his paintings: closely related to the reality of the times and contemporary culture. In the words of Mr. Pei Daojian: Ink language is used to express the “shape of existence.” He maintains a state of “what if and when the reality exists” as described by critics, that is, people can truly feel the situation of people under the contemporary society from the paintings, and also perform “unfamiliar feelings” in artistic expression to achieve a life that means the natural state of art and art is life.
He always holds an unrelenting concept: If he despises his own life experience, just as he despises his own life, the sensibility to the current life is the most important thing in art. From the sensibility to the epoch, to retrospective to the past, and to the realization of all things “into dusts”, Liu Qinghe slowly took his warm homeward way: going back to the innermost self.
Text by Zhu Li, translated and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Photo Courtesy of the United Art Museum