A Labybirth Within an Allegory, or an Allegory Within a Labyrinth An Examination of Qiu Guangping’s Ultimate World From Several Key Words
Source:Artintern.net Author:Yang Xiaoyan Date: 2013-09-04 Size:
During the appreciation of Qiu Guangping’s paintings, the first word that I thought of is allegory. But with further contemplation, I find that the world he has created is more than just an allegory, or, in other words, far more than just a simple one. Rather, under the surface of an allegory, we can find a second allegory hidden inside, and another one within the last one… Qiu’s art is like a labybirth created by allegories, or an allegory expanding inside a laybirth, which points to an ultimate end that is blurred and misty.

  I quote T.S. Eliot’s poem because it touched something deep in my heart. It is one of the very few literary pieces of Western modernism that I can still remember. In fact, I seldom read poems after coming of age. It was during the college years that I read The Hollow Men, which I never forget. But the memory did not surface until I encountered Qiu’s paintings and I think there somehow exists a subtle connection between the works of the two. It might not be said that T.S. Eliot influenced Qiu during his creation, since a painter usually has his own way of thinking. But what can be sure is that both the paintings by Qiu and the poems by T.S. Eliot, especially The Hollow Men, have the force to break away from life and the limit of time and space, which invokes me to associate one with the other. In T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, the major image is grass. In this sense, neither do the neighing of horses, the hoarse screaming have souls, which is the same as the hollow men. Or to put it more precisely, they all have a wandering soul without a sense of belonging. This is exactly what Qiu is concerned about. The knights do not exist and neither do heroes, which is why the soul belongs to nowhere. The holy becomes empty, or even something funny and laughable in an age that emphasizes only material.

  But we can not even laugh, so that Qiu resorts to neighing, which becomes whimpering when mixed with tiredness. Stretching long and endless, the whimpering becomes moaning.

  There are not many works that can touch the heart. When I read The Hollow Man, even though it was not the original English but just translated text, I was deeply touched. After many years, the feeling has always faded, which reveals that literary works are now far from the realm of private reading experience. One who insists on reading works of literature is either pretentious or insane. But Qiu has a different idea, without which I would not think of The Hollow Man. From my understanding, there is no work that can reveal Qiu’s intention better than T.S. Eliot’s work, several sentences of whom can lead me into the artist’s world better than passages of words. The knights do not exist; they are just some outdated scarecrows pretending to be heroes and riding the uncontrollable wild horse. They think they have original thought but in fact they are the typical “hollow men”, who cannot utter a sound but only neigh and then moan.

  Perhaps in Qiu’s world, neighing and whimpering are no different from moaning.

  Words III: Allegory and Still, Allegory

  From “The Great Rescue” in 2008, we can see that the craziness and fury of the painting, or the forward position of scarecrow indicate that what the painter has depicted is an allegory in nature.

  The allegory is a way of expression. I always think that one of its striking features is the use of metaphor, which expresses emotions indirectly. Zhuangzi in ancient China is good at using this rhetoric device and writing allegories. For example, he has written several in A Happy Excursion, which reveals that it is highly difficult to attain natural state of freedom.

  So what is it that Qiu wants to “rescue”? It is a group of crazy scarecrows, hollow men which lack real bodies that run forward to “rescue” a non-existing aim. It can be associated with Qiu’s another piece named “The Great Wall”, in which the wild horses are struggling beside the ancient structure of the Great Wall. From the comparison we can be awakened to the understanding that, to a certain degree, the act of “rescue” is the end. The act of struggle is only on the surface, while inside it we can see endless emptiness. Once passion becomes the subject, hollowness takes the form of body and replaces it. The result is that the artist’s wild imagination acquires a certain form, which is the wildly running horses that are neighing, whimpering and screaming. Wildness is a fact and the body itself becomes empty. Then the allegory goes towards the heaven, which then no longer exists inside heaven since it would merge with emptiness.

  The Final Word: Heaven

  In 2009, Qiu created a piece of painting titled “Long Gone is the Hero”, in which several wild horses lie on a deserted ship, mixed with many parts and moaning. With the hollow scarecrows long gone, heroes have become simply a concept, existing only in language. In the same year, Qiu created “Go to the Heaven”,in which the scarecrows embrace each other closely, with the horses running wildly. It has a fixed target: heaven, which enters Qiu’s artistic expression as a key word.

  My attention was drawn to two other oil paintings. The piece titled “Mountains and Rivers” has little to do with elegance and far from the real scenery. Rather, Qiu seems to have depicted a pile of burning woods. The fire started from within, burning in a threatening way, slowly and silently. In 2012 this theme was continued with another two paintings named “The Fake Mountains and Rocks”. Although it is just a rock ,the inner burning demonstrates itself in a a ruthless way. The most impressive is that in the piece “The Fake Mountains and Rocks”, three vultures look at the audience with eyes conveying alarm and fear.

  Next Qiu created “Witness I” and “Witness II” continuously, featuring the image of vulture which keeps staring at the outside world. The vulture is a leader, but the question is, where will it lead us? The more important question is that, why it is vulture and not other species that serve as a leader? As we know, this animal feeds on rotten meat. In Tibetan, because of the custom of “celestial burial”, the vulture is even considered as a holy bird, leading the spirit of the dead to heaven and serving as the vehicle of the dead. Therefore, the gate to heaven is also the path to death. It is only through death that the heaven reveals its true self.

  It is not only just a change of the subject but also a leap in thinking from wild horses to vultures. In the metaphor system of Qiu, wild horses represent a secular struggle, physical impulses driven by hormone or the instinctive fury. The vulture, on the other hand, is a unique messenger from heaven since it leads us in an unbelievably different way, which is also driven by hormone and stands as an embodiment of cruelty. It indicates that as far as the vulture is concerned, it has not realized its role as a leader which seems to be an ancient and faraway heritage. By its natural eating habits, the vulture cuts the connection between body and soul, so that the body is not only the origin of existence but also offers the opportunity for the soul to leave the body and becomes a starting point towards the heaven. Here “witness” means that with the sharp eyes staring at the decaying body and from the moment when the vulture eats the meat, an chance is provided for the soul to be set free, which, with the disappearance of body, becomes part of the vulture. Therefore the soul tends to be floating softly. The light of heaven seems all the more friendly, sensible and touchable, injecting new life into the soul.

  Written on 10th June, 2013 at Clifford Estates, Guangzhou

  Yang Xiaoyan:well-known art critic, curator, professor at Sun Yat-sen University

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[Editor] 常霞