The Chinese Artist Whose Abstract Works Developed Contemporary Art In China – Qiu Deshu
At a time when abstract art went beyond public understanding and acceptance in China, Qiu Deshu tenaciously fought for independence and freedom of self-expression and artistic creation. During the early 1980s, Qiu lived in oppression because he had founded the Cao Cao She or the Grass Grass Society, an artistic group that used wild grass as a metaphor for their uninspiring yet energetic lives, their hope that the concepts of independent thinking and creation would ignite and spread like wildfire.
In fact, the opposite happened, their first exhibition was unexpectedly shut down having only been open for a few days because the abstract nature of the works was taboo. Nonetheless, it was a seminal moment in the history of the emergence and development of contemporary art in China. Because he had founded Cao Cao She, Qiu Deshu lived in unbearable psychological pressure, which caused him to experience a stroke at the age of 32. However, it was from this turmoil that he achieved a breakthrough in his artistic expression, paving the way for spiritual balance and self-healing.
Whilst recovering from his stroke Qiu Deshu would walk around the deserted courtyard behind his studio. It was here that he was first attracted to the beauty of the cracks in the rocks, which led to a sudden awareness of the silent but unavoidable natural power hidden in the fissures of the slate crack. This deeply inspired the metaphorical concept of his “Fissuring” series, which he used to express his inner turmoil and emotions.
This awareness of the fissures in the slate rock lead him to develop his “Fissuring” technique, which encompassed tearing Xuan paper, reconfiguring the pieces, and mounting them to form images, creating lines, or “fissures”, that travel across the painting’s expanse in a natural, free-flowing manner. The application of colour onto a painting is here subverted as well.
By cultivating his own way of observing and expressing himself into a specific artistic language that departs from both traditional Chinese and Western painting, Qiu Deshu makes Xuan paper a major element in his works, among traditional painting materials such as ink, silk, and Chinese pigment, and he strengthens the core meaning of paper as an “object” by utilizing his “fissuring” technique.
By tearing, rubbing, and carving the Xuan paper, the artist highlights the nature of the material. Through external objects, he has developed his own metaphor to express his inner thoughts and artistic concepts. Qiu is deeply influenced by Chinese traditional philosophy. During his creation process, he equates himself with objects, and he works in dialogue with the material, and in so doing, he highlights the cultural meaning hidden in the material itself.
“Fissuring” not only reflects Qiu’s personal life experiences and way of thinking but also depicts the common phenomenon in the context of rapid modernization and development in China today. It is the core principle of natural transformation both in the cosmos and in a microcosm. It destroys and constructs. It collapses and is reborn.
As an intellectual with a strong social consciousness, Qiu Deshu has continued to use “fissuring” as the major theme of his artistic practice over the past 30 years. He has chosen a non-narrative method of expression to integrate his artworks into the contemporary social and cultural context of globalization and diversity.