by Tony Chang
Artist Chen Qi (b. 1963) witnessed the rise of the 85 New Wave during his college days, but he did not directly reflect the confusion of social transformation in his creations. His personality is introspective and serene, and the path of his artistic development resembles that of such artists as Xu Bing and Wang Huaiqing – searching the interior of cultural traditions for the key to cracking contemporary malaise. Since the mid 1980s, Chen has stayed faithful to his heart, engaging in meditations on individual existence while maintaining China’s literati tradition with a contemporary awareness. For his recent Notations of Time series, his path of artistic transformation has extended even further, entering into the depths of the inner world.
The art of water-based printmaking * is a continuation of the infatuation with the traces of objects from Chinese ink and wash painting, and rubbings of ancient stele inscriptions. Through more than two decades of perseverance, Chen Qi has enriched the expressive power of water-based printmaking language by expanding the medium into the unknown realms of the conceptual, and pushing his works beyond the limitations of painting. For Chen Qi, water printmaking is the act of a witness of civilization and history revisiting the past and consoling the present, as well as a ritual of the artist’s spirit soaring into the unknown realm of the soul.
* Water-based Woodblock Printmaking (a.k.a. Water Print) Creation Method:
The artist carves an image with richly expressive cuts onto several (sometimes more than ten) wooden printing boards, and dyes them with Chinese ink or other water-soluble pigments. He then prints this image on paper, usually Chinese scroll paper, in a creative process that draws from experience and intuition to control water content, pressure and other factors. The resulting prints are signed and marked with their limited edition numbers by the artist to create the final original artwork.
Notations of Time is an assemblage consisting of pages with holes carved out of them bound together in book form. The idea for this work came from observing the holes that worms eat out of books. Looking at this cut and tattered artwork, it is surprisingly beautiful while challenging our observational experience and aesthetical judgment.
An excerpt from “Cut Reading” by Professor Qian Dajing,
Dean of Research Institue of Public Arts, the Shanghai University
I believe that it is a massive turning point in his creative thinking, a shift from the consideration of formless concepts within tangible things towards the probing of timeless, formless concepts to reach a concrete, physical form. ‘Time’ is an eternal, abstract, even indescribable thing, and from the perspective and methods of artistic expression, it perhaps stands as a challenge. Chen Qi’s wisdom here is in that he approaches it from the traces of time, and uses his signature refinement and fastidiousness in thought and technique, combined with modern visual expression and image forms to materialize ‘time’ as artistic objects and images, which are presented comprehensively in the form of books, prints, woodcarvings and video, turning time into something tangible, something visible, and more importantly, something that can be experienced and pondered.
An excerpt from “Objects of Thought: Reading Chen Qi” by
Wang Huangsheng, Director, Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts