Qi Zhilong was discovered by well reputed art critic Li Xianting in 1992 while working at the Yuan Ming Yuan artists' village, painting beautiful women in brash swimwear. If Qi first caught the art world's attention with his kitsch and colorful canvases of his "Consumer Icon" series, it is the paintings of young girls in military uniforms that he shifted to after 1995 that established him as one of the most renowned Political Pop artists in China. Bringing back the memories of a glorious and romanticized era that celebrated youths in military clothing this latter cycle stands in strong contraposition to the consumerist image Qi initially conveyed. Nonetheless visible elements are brought forward as Chinese Girl 2001 (Lot 881) evidences, manifesting a continuity of the artist's stream of consciousness. Remaining loyal to the realistic portrayal of women, Qi explains his thematic shift by saying he wanted to create pictures "with more depth" that would powerfully stand in memory of the non-materialistic values of his childhood.
In Chinese Girl 2001 a young woman gazes straight ahead looking into the viewer's eye. Her expression is calm but smiling; two neat braids gently fall on her shoulders, while a cap covers her head. While conforming to the typical Cultural Revolution uniform in shape, the cap is missing an element that Qi purposely omits: the red star. It is important to note that this single exclusion may be the key to reading Qi's works, which although carrying a strong relation to the Cultural Revolution, also stands as a symbol of today's China, post reform and opening. Incorporating Chinese advertising poster techniques of the early half of the 20th century, Qi introduces a touch of irony to his series. He plays with the notion that this kind of poster, during Mao's time, could only embody the Chairman's own image, while in today's China major cities are all covered with beautiful women smiling on large billboards advertising beauty products.
Qi says there is an irony about a woman wearing a military uniform, perhaps because in his canvases they rarely reflect the tough image a soldier is expected to carry but rather they are smiling and delicate beauties. However the most powerful message his images leave is the convergence of romanticized Revolutionary day memories with the legacy of Deng Xiaoping's "socialism with Chinese characteristics" market oriented economy. This is a message that resonates loudly among today's Chinese avant-garde artists. It is not by chance that one of Qi's Chinese Girls was chosen to be on the cover of Mahjong, an important catalogue featuring the comprehensive private collection, of Swiss collector Mr. Uli Sigg, documenting Chinese Contemporary Art. Qi's Chinese Girls are iconic images that will always stick in our minds to symbolize this artistic era.