Born in Yi-lan on the east coast of Taiwan in 1949, Qiu Yacai was exposed to Chinese philosophies and Western literature at a young age. Deemed an underachiever in school, Qiu began reading on his own and subsequently began to write and paint. Qiu's oil paintings expose the breadth of his study in Chinese painting history as he draws inspiration from the Han through the Tang dynasties (206 BC - 907 AD).
The emphasis on the strongly-drawn eyes marks the direct influence of the fourth-century court painter Gu Kaizhi (344-406) of the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420), who believed that only the eyes can reveal a person's true personality. The subjects of Qiu's portraiture are the liu lang (outcasts) and the ya ru (elegant scholars). In A Painter in His Forties (Lot 1532), the image not only represents the creative force that a painter embodies, but also mirrors the artist's wish for his own identity. Like the self-portrait of the Blue period painted by Spanish maestro Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1901, it is a picture representing the politically-motivated intellectual artist seen through the melancholic, dark blue lens of its creator. Qiu identifies himself with the Confucian scholar, his moral rectitude, elegance, and search for perfection; he is concerned with portraying the ideal portrait. Hence, the outcasts portrayed by Qiu are not of the poor and dejected, but are the urban beings that refuse to conform to societal norms. Portrait of a Man (Lot 1534) is a reflection of the artist's ideal of a Confucian fellow who has suffered for his ideals. A member of the intelligentsia in Taiwan, this figure of androgynous features with folded arms and sorrowful eyes appears elegant yet frail and vulnerable; he serves as a reflection of Qiu's attitude towards life. While most of Qiu's subjects appear to be solitary, even melancholic, they can still be controlled and self-possessed at the same time, as exemplified by the complex and nuanced Youth in Red (Lot 1533). Qiu's portraits captivate the audience with their humility, arrogance, self-importance and fragility, embodying the paradoxes of humankind beneath surface.
While Qiu's figures of elongated forms, delineated lines and flat, blocks of strong and emotional colours recall those painted by twentieth century artist Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), the artist's repertoire of influences are broader. Known for his defined contours of forms, Qiu often delineates them in continuous strokes of black or blue ink which reveals his passion for Chinese painting and calligraphy. Drawn in oil on canvas using the techniques of Chinese painting, his hand remains steady but his brush is free to move; sometimes the brush is handled like a knife creating lines reminiscent of the traditional gongbi style (meticulous style) painting. Through simple but deliberate brushstrokes, Qiu is able to evoke complex feelings by focusing on the inner psyche of the figures he paints. By this, he endows a type of timeless monumentality to his figures, and expresses the essence of the malaise of the soul common to humankind: solitude. Having broken away from academic constraints, Qiu, a silent observer of urban dwellers, is able to successfully create a style to call his own. He yearns for order and paints out of necessity; from the chaos of confused emotions he has painted these unforgettable portraits with glimpses of permanence.