Qiu Xiaofei’s studio is in an art village in Beijing. His creative refuge is right there at the top of a small path. Upon entering the workspace we see Qiu. Dressed in a blue shirt, black trousers and trainers, he is surrounded by people with whom he is discussing the video short for Christie’s +86 First Open. Qiu is demonstrating his colour mixing technique for the video.
Qiu Xiaofei mixes paint during filming for the +86 First Open.
The studio space reflects Qiu Xiaofei’s personality and his art — simple, abstract, awash with colour. As we chat, Qiu explains how he comes to the studio every day, and how when not working he invites friends over. He is a particular fan of improvisational music of the 1970s. Qiu Xiaofei keeps a large collection of vinyl records and cassettes in the studio. The nostalgic feeling they create is reminiscent of his use of stamps depicting paintings and old photographs in some of his previous works. In life and in his art, Qiu inhabits another time.
Qiu Xiaofei improvises during filming.
He describes his lifestyle as ‘Puritan-like’ — increasingly stable and calm. He rarely goes to see exhibitions anymore and no longer follow events in the art world. His only focus is coming to the studio every day to paint. It is here he gains excitement and pleasure.
Time has been a subject of Qiu Xiaofei’s work from the beginning. His early period work dealt with the theme of past timelines. In his later work, Qiu developed the idea that time not only manifests in the simple forms of ‘past’, ‘present’ or ‘future’, but that it resembles interwoven lines of intersecting time periods, akin to his oft-talked about idea of ‘the spiral structure of time’. For Qiu, time exists in a state that can jump about at any moment, something he explores in his work.
Abstract paintings fill Qiu Xiaofei's studio.
Stiff Remains, produced in 2009, was first displayed in a solo exhibition Point of No Return and is being showcased as part of +86 First Open. An upside-down ash-coloured building, a figure lying on a bed, a geometric shape and the Chinese words ‘Stiff Remains’ are arranged on a blue-black background. Through the arrangement of the painting, Qiu Xiaofei connects the words and the forms, hoping to capture with these fragments the impression of a space and time that neither connects to the past, nor is the future or the present. Qiu Xiaofei also discusses his application of colour. The heavy texture of the painting's surface was not a deliberate construction. Images that Qiu conceptualized at the start were covered by successive layers of paint as he painted. Eventually, the forms once again emerged after having been covered up.
Qiu Xiaofei describes how his painting style changes in a similar fashion: ‘My style changes as I continue to use it. When a thing stops working, something else come up, and this cycle repeats. I don’t come up with a style and decide I want to change it, or say I want to become like this.’ Just like his idea of time, his creative process is complex, and layered like his artwork. It pulls the spectator into his realm of intertwining spiralling timelines.
Studio visit: Liu Wei