Chen Qian: Perceiving the Unknown

By Wang Wei, Translated by Fiona He, Images Courtesy of Arario Gallery


Chen Qiang : Not Only from the Idea 

Arario Gallery / Shanghai

24 March 2018 - 20 May 2018


Whether it is his willful graffiti style painting from an early period of his artistic practice, or the orderly composition in a later stage, Chen Qiang has been emphasizing on the pivotal role of sensibility in his making of abstract paintings. At the same time, his works encompass elements of contradiction, which are not only made apparent in the artist’s use of material and medium, but also enmeshed in the reasons and sensibilities on a metaphorical dimension. Through reflections on the external world and introspections of the questions from within, the artist continues to unravel bewildering stasis of unknown experiences in his practice of abstraction.

Art Frontier: Your solo exhibition presented at the Arario Gallery did not only include your recent works, but also show a number of representative works from different stages of your practice since the 1990s. From these works, it is easy to notice a transition in the composition and methodology. In other words, your imageries have undergone an evolution of order, as these various paths converged in your recent works. Could you elaborate on the thinking behind each stage of your practice?

Chen Qiang: My works are ways by which I address the number of issues I have, and naturally they become records of the approach that I have reflected upon and adopted to set up these limits or release. Therefore these reflections and executions would impact on my approach to paintings and their compositions.

Exploration and seeking for the subconscious in the 1990s was to circumvent the prevalence of subject dominated painting, instead I chose a “subconscious” way to search for an alternative path to painting. Later on, my emphasis on “looking” was purely sensory oriented. Whereas, my practice in recent periods is somewhat retrospective, that integrates the perceptive and the sensible.

Art Frontier: The title for this exhibition, Not Only from the Idea, where whether one looks back on your willful graffiti style painting in an early phase of artistic practice, or the orderly composition later on, you have been emphasizing on the pivotal role of sensibility in making of abstract paintings. Does this sensibility affect your practice and viewing of your works at the same time? What does it refer to specifically?

Chen Qiang: In terms of my practice and the viewing of artworks, sensibility should be the first and foremost. If sensibility is absent from life, that it does not intervene in one’s life and practice, or one’s viewing is not supported by any sense, it would become an unimaginable state of being, where art, being and life will cease to exist. So, sensibility is the only channel by which we relate to this world.

Generally, when too much is said, few will listen; when thoughts dominate, sensibilities will be wane. In fact, when we are confronted with the immense world of senses, our thoughts are insignificant. One’s sensibilities are the basis for artistic practice, where one’s soul and art making is connected. Art is first and foremost, about sensibilities.

The subject for this exhibition, Not Only from the Idea is based on these following thoughts:

The obstacles for our practice to enter a deeper level are multifarious, one of which being we have too many ideas, we tend to be too selfish and dogmatic.

Art is not a loudspeaker or decoration for ideas. It is only when ideas serve the artistic purpose, would it be fully visualized.

It’s not a matter of art complimenting the idea, but vice versa.

As to artistic practice, if one’s ideas are only to satisfy personal desires and ambitions, then it’s quite likely that art will be ransacked. Instead, it’s better to take a deep breath, or to be in a daze.

It is only when one’s idea becomes a solid stage, one’s inspirations would erupt, where the performance on stage would be spectacular, nevertheless the content of the performance does not necessarily have to represent these ideas.

One should not hope to impose one’s ideas onto the others through art. Because art is not a tool, and neither are they conspiracies. The ideas can only become the context, not the protagonist. On the other hand, they can highlight and illuminate the protagonist.

Art Frontier: The works from different periods of your practice comprise of a number of fixed pictorial elements, for example, the dots and graffiti of lines, which are visualized with subtle variations in different works. Do these fixed elements set a certain scope to your practice?

Chen Qiang: The ways in which art is presented can be infinite. The condition for artistic practice is to set a certain formal boundary. Using these fixed elements is a way of doing so. Objectively speaking, there are two kinds of boundaries, the natural and the artificial, both aiming at reaching the infinite within limited parameters. We can understand it as setting up a scope. However, art practice has an alternative goal, which is to break free from the scope, and to allow one’s perception to transcend.

Art Frontier: The rich and diverse colors in your works provide viewers with memorable impressions, do they point to an emotional release? Can you elaborate on your thoughts for colors?

Chen Qiang:Indeed, color is inspired by senses.If sensibility is a way of thinking, then my understanding is that our sensibilities are like the mobile camera, that it can turn around to sense one’s own perception of colors, where reason cannot penetrate. What reason can participate is to arrange, compare the results of one’s senses of colors, and provide them with analysis. If one were color blind, then reason would be unnecessary. Therefore, reason can be engaged to analyze color, but cannot appreciate them.

Art Frontier: Prior to conceiving these formatted and orderly images, do you have a preconceived idea for the structure and colors of a painting? And in the course of creating the work, especially for those large dimensional pieces (for instance a set of five paintings shown in this exhibition that took four years to complete ), how would you negotiate the relationship between the details and the overall structure of the work, and how do you address and deal with the loss of control that often occurs in this process?

Chen Qiang: Before making a work, there is at least one or many sketches or color schemes in my mind. For most of the large dimensional works, I would often make one or many drawings (including details and the general composition). In the course of creating the work, I would intentionally leave out certain room, whether evenly or unevenly (or psychological space) for the uncontrollable, because out of control is part of the language of painting.

Art Frontier: One gets a sense of contradiction in your paintings, more precisely, these elements are not necessarily dichotomous, but overlap and enmesh in one another. Other than material and medium that we have mentioned earlier, this kind of contradictory elements is visualized on a metaphorical level, for instance the integration of sensibility and reason in your works. In your recent works, one still finds the graffiti-like willful marks from your earlier works, but it’s apparent that they exist within a rational framework. On the other hand, your earlier works were largely embodiments of subconscious emotional release, then, are your later works to a large extent, accomplished based on reason? What are your views on the relationship between sensibility and reason in your practice?

Chen Qiang: Contradiction provides meaning for existence. A world of contradictions is appealing to me. I can’t imagine a world absent of contradictions, would life still exist? So, my art practice does not evade contradiction. Sensibility and reason are the basic set of contradiction of human nature. In fact, reason is the indispensible tool for one’s senses, while one’s senses are the primary ways of presenting life. The goal of engaging rational means in one’s practice is to extract the true senses, rather than the simple instincts.

Art Frontier: Your paintings have revealed an internal pattern beyond the surface of the matter, which seems to suggest visual translation in the objective world, while the sensibilities from within seem to be part of the maker’s subjective expression. What is the kind of stasis that your practice in abstraction trying to present or achieve?

Chen Qiang: The term “expression” consists of an individual’s subjectivity and sentimental components, which can be somewhat imposing on the others. Whereas “present” seems more objective. Even though our senses can be perceptively mistaken sometimes, but to do so without any personal desires or emotions can be nevertheless objectively significant, which constitutes the condition for a comprehensive presentation of art.

It should be said that, my practice is a presentation of my subjective perception on the boundary of art, and it’s a way of approaching the unfamiliar state of the unknown and visualizing the unnamable.


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Exhibition view of "Chen Qiang : Not Only from the Idea" at Arario Gallery Shanghai


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Work 17-23, rice paper, ink and oil paint on linen, 200 × 320 cm, 2017


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Work 16-11 (Quintuplet), acrylic on linen, 360 × 200 cm × 5, 2012 - 2016


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Work 17-16, rice paper, ink and oil paint on linen, 200 × 320 cm, 2017