Concreteness and Illusion in the Art of Qin Chong
Source:artintern Author:Peng Feng Date: 2014-05-27 Size:
 Concreteness and illusion are commonly used terms in traditional Chinese aesthetical critique on artworks, in which the unison of concreteness and illusion is an important criterion for outstanding art pieces. As Qing Dynasty painter Da Chongguang remarked: "concreteness and illusion are bor


Concreteness and illusion are commonly used terms in traditional Chinese aesthetical critique on artworks, in which the unison of concreteness and illusion is an important criterion for outstanding art pieces. As Qing Dynasty painter Da Chongguang remarked: "concreteness and illusion are born of each other, where emptiness is elevated to transcendence." Transcendence, being the zenith of exceptional artworks, is manifested in the interconnection of concreteness and illusion.

  Can we use this language and the theories of traditional aesthetics to review contemporary art? Although the two may appear to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the gap can be abridged through reversal: the terms and principles of traditional aesthetics can be used to decipher contemporary art, especially those artworks deeply reflecting on traditions. And this is exactly what Qin Chong's art does. Thus it is appropriate to examine the works of Qin Chong with the language and theories of traditional aesthetics. Even more important is, that such reading could connect contemporary art with profound cultural traditions, forming complex impressions, intricate associations and meaningful concepts between the two.

Qin's expression of illusion is at its most direct in the vague outline of shapes. His new series of oil paintings "remember" recall a number of masterpieces in Western art history, such as Van Gogh's "Sunflowers", Munch's "The Scream" and Millet's "The Gleaners", all painted like shadows, obscure and blurred. Unlike the usage of illusion in traditional Chinese aesthetics, Qin employs indefinite shapes to convey his specific ideas. In this series, illusion embodies many layers of critical meanings and self-reflection. Qin's generation of artists thrived on following the footsteps of Western masters. However, the masters' works were only vague, fragmented impressions to those young Chinese artists who had never left the country or seen the original pieces. Qin travelled and lived in Europe, where he had personal exposure to Western masterpieces and arrived at a more coherent, clearer understanding. Many Chinese artists developed their art from a misreading of the Western masters, and Qin was no exception. The majority of Chinese artists are still living in these unclear and scattered impressions without knowing it, while Qin has experienced the differences and tensions in between. His paintings are partially distinct, which may allude to his inner understanding of the conflict between concreteness and illusion in Western masterpieces. We can draw this conclusion of Qin Chong's series "remember": contemporary Chinese artists cannot free themselves from the influences of Western masters. Even though these influences are fragmented and undefined, they are barriers for Chinese artists to return to their cultural traditions. Regardless of the interpretation we adopt, Qin's series of oil paintings revolves around the illusory rendering in Western masterpieces and it points to the artist's self-reflection. Such reflection is not confined to aesthetics, but it is also endowed with broader sociological meanings.

 From the perspective of traditional Chinese aesthetics, illusion in Qin's artworks is primarily conveyed through large blanks on paper. His recent series of ink on paper, titled "whatever" (wu-suowei) center on spontaneous lines and white spaces. Blanks are essential to traditional Chinese ink painting; it is through blanks that viewers experience the imaginary and the transcendent in the piece of art. However, Qin's series do not call to this transcendence. His works feature abstract, concealed lines that are rather uncommon in traditional Chinese painting. Taking it further, we can say that Qin's simplicity and spontaneity help to decode traditional Chinese ink painting. His works are pure visuals in contemporary abstract art. And again we can discern the critical perspectives in Qin's art; here it is not the criticism of Western masterpieces but of Chinese traditions instead: the mysterious exquisiteness of Chinese ink paintings is demystified by Qin's simple lines. Still, Qin Chong takes a different approach from many contemporary abstract ink painters, who strive to distinguish themselves or to reach beyond the limits of experience by resorting to repetitive dots and lines. His works are not as complex as traditional ink paintings, nor are they as reduced as minimalist art; in Qin's view, both tendencies are contrived statements. In his art, Qin pursues spontaneity what can be summed up by the title of his series "whatever". Both, traditional ink and contemporary minimalist ink emphasize careful design and the effect of tension. Qin's artworks seek true liberation from any artistic rules, be it traditional frameworks or contemporary attitudes. In the pursuit of freedom, art must be liberated from its own constraints before it can be freed from social conventions.

  The creation of illusion can be found again in Qin Chong's installations like "past-future" and "birthday", made through burning of paper. These installations represent the most down-to-earth, yet innovative expression of concreteness and illusion, existence and emptiness, black and white in traditional Chinese aesthetics. They are also the most effective visualization of Qin's artistic statements and his ideal of "wu-suowei". The burning of paper is a very natural process, leaving natural traces. These traces are the climax of Qin's concentration on leaving whatever it is behind. If illusion is realized through addition in his oil paintings "remember" and through stillness in his ink paintings "whatever", it is born of subtraction in these paper-burning installations. Among these three methods of expression, subtraction is more oriental in its essence. As Feng Youlan noted, "the way of decrease" (fu de fangfa) is a prevalent concept in Zen and other schools of Chinese philosophies.

 By tracing the relationship between the philosophy of subtraction in classical Chinese philosophies and the concept of concreteness and illusion in traditional Chinese aesthetics, Qin strongly affirms his artistic origins, rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. Qin's use of symbols is not a shallow imitation of traditional culture; it is a reinvention of traditional culture in contemporary visual language. After living through the era of Westernization and Post-Colonization, we can see the true creativity of Chinese artists in the art of Qin Chong: the creativity based on the spirits of China. Perhaps, only such creativeness can be called the true contemporary art of China.

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[Editor] 曹英