Contemporary Chinese artist Qiu Xiaofei, born in 1977, is a graduate from China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Whilst at CAFA, Qiu was studying at Oil Painting Studio 3 - noted for its expressionism and led by contemporary Chinese virtuoso Liu Xiaodong - and began a systematic study of expressionism techniques. The discipline is shown in Qiu's precise command of the relationship between colors, brushstrokes and emotions. Collections featured in Qiu's solo exhibitions became noticeably cohesive since Objects, his 2008 show. Two years later, in Point of No Return, he broke way from the faithful manifestation of real objects, borrowed artistic forms from the Realism movement and techniques from Expressionism to achieve a formless and chaotic world mired between illusion and reality. It was generally regarded as Qiu's breakthrough.
Masterpieces are oftentimes more than just the artistic approach or form; they also manifest emotional dimension of the artwork. Stiff Remains chronicles the artist’s emotional displacements he experienced over the 3 decades of his life. The canvas - at nearly 4 metres long - serves as the backdrop, on which blacks and blues are repetitively applied in thick and broad strokes at the borders of the colour blocks, covering the canvas in whole. Qiu might have mixed dibs of poly-linseed oil for blending purposes, keeping the impasto paint saturated. Upon drying, the application gives the piece a unique, slightly rugged texture, resembling the surface of limestone cliffs to awaken the pangs in the depths of one's psyche. The brush, saturated with thick oil paint, is immediately swept of the piece – taking with it globs of dye - just as quickly as the oil is pressed into the canvas. This motion lends a unique colour texture to the piece, and seems to 'splash' over its confines, leaving slightly jagged traces of paint marginally sticking out from the canvas.
Men are often ultra-sensitive to certain lexical expressions and symbols, triggered by specific psychological issues and emotional land mines. The inverted modernist architectural structure, the red cube, and titular Chinese characters afloat in midair can all be causes of unease. Objects and forms, devoid of meaning and contextually irrelevant, are deliberately planted in the picture. They baffle the viewer, and disunite the conventional act of object-viewing. This feeling of unrest, originates in the absence of reason, is a purposeful arrangement by Qiu to embed personal experiences in a constantly-evolving society, and to explore the end-result of continuously-changing ideologies. Qiu recalled that he was with a relative to offer emotional support when the latter was treated with psychiatric disorders; and that experience acquainted him with the unconscious realm. Noted psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud stated explicitly that the concept of the unconscious was based on the theory of repression, and the structuring of the mind; the subconscious and desires of the id have to be subjugated by reality. It is not aware of time, cause-and-effect or reason.
Viewer's line of vision is inevitably drawn to the mannequin at the bottom centre, whose nude colours lay bare its undisputable reality of nakedness; the thin, diluted paint drizzles downward... the shackled image, attempting to speak out in this sea of dark blue, overwhelms one's sensory vantage with its textual and spatial oddness, leaving the viewer a mess of entangled feelings and thoughts. At the bottom right are crudely written characters: ‘Stiff Remains.’ The clumsiness demonstrated and the sharp turns of the script reinforces the piece's titular connotation, and the cohesiveness of the content to further enhance the power of the artist’s message. Stiff Remains suggests that one's innermost stability and calm can be easily disturbed and strained; and to survive in the uncertain, one must attain self-assurance in his fickle relationship with the community.
The upended structure and the mirror-image of the indoor space are presented on the centre stage as the visual protagonists, elevated from their previous status as a mere, formative and perspective educational basis. Character traits of reality and memory, history and records, texts and images, and how the constant relationship between the aforesaid pairs are broken apart and reorganized; our psychological world is manifested through this illogical combination. Qiu's definition of the essence and spirit of painting prevailed: it was a pursuit of individualised awareness and pertinent motifs. Stiff Remains seems compositionally simple; yet the sense of unease trickles out of the quiet: it oozes out from every inch of the painting. Likewise, this sense of unease exists both in this tableau and in Qiu's memory. On one hand, this psychoanalytically-inclined creative approach is sourced in Qiu's memory of his psychiatrically tortured family member; nevertheless, it was predominantly an artist's pursuit of quietude through self-introspection in this age of unrest.