Suspended by A Thread
—— Liu Qiming and His Paintings
No one can say exactly how long a line is, or how much weight it can bear, or how much lightness it can evoke. However, there is an artist who takes the line as the main theme of his creation, interpreting his philosophy of life and art with a single line. This artist is Liu Qiming.
The distance between two physical particles in space is the original meaning of a line, which cannot form a real object. But in Liu Qiming’s art, it plays an important role in connecting heaven and earth and carrying life. Why does a thin and light line have such an important metaphorical significance to him? This is closely related to his personal experience.
Since his middle school years, he seems to have borne pressures that other classmates did not have to face – he was expelled from the Communist Youth League for protesting against cheating in school exams, and he experienced the reality of the June 4th incident through his brother’s military service. For a teenager pursuing progress, idealism was struck by the so-called organizational principles and political reality.
When he just finished university, which had cultivated his naive observation and expression methods of art and reality, the result of his graduation assignment once again shattered his dream of art – he was assigned to teach in the Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture Teachers College in Sichuan Province. The religious status of minority areas and the lack of cultural information far from Chengdu made him feel lonely and inconsolable. He was still young and needed art, and needed communication of thought and emotion. So, he established his own studio in Chengdu and shuttled between the Aba Teachers College and the studio on the Chengdu Plain for several years. The exhaustion of time and energy finally led him to resign, because only in this way could he concentrate on painting and realize his artistic dream. However, the reality of life repeatedly made him feel the false and cruel indifference – friends’ urging led him to join a scam; the endless meetings and regulations of the new school made him unable to focus; his mother’s accidental death gave him a painful insight into the harsh reality of urban-rural differences.
He should have had sufficient time and energy to engage in his favorite painting creation, but in his thirty-odd years of life, he has been tormented by the realities of life. He should have vented his pain in his paintings with vigorous images and found dignity and meaning in life through his art. However, when we see his recent works created in Beijing over the past two years, we feel more elusive calmness and indifference. In the unpredictable and dark sea of clouds, there is a symbol of political power that is faintly visible but never disappears. The tornadoes and mushroom clouds released from there, as the energy field of external political power, can cover the sky, make the sun and moon invisible, and make all things bleak. After experiencing many things, Liu Qiming learned to see the essence through appearances. The external constraints and real-life conflicts could not arouse his interest in expressing with his brush. He wanted to express his answers to these pressures and troubles and stand on a higher point of view to grasp the invisible hand that controls the concrete world of reality. Therefore, he chose a metaphorical approach, combining the layered dark clouds symbolizing the weight of reality with the seemingly small symbolic architectural structure in one painting. One is the vast and boundless natural phenomenon that seems to be nothing, and the other is the artificial thing that contains huge power energy, but the combination of these two things in the painting only makes sense because of the existence and confusion of Chinese people.
In the foreground of the painting, the suspended figures like dolls are the artist’s ultimate focus. They are naked, leaving only a piece of red cloth to cover their modesty. On this sea of clouds that seems to swallow everything, they do not seem to be panicked but are mechanically repeating some predetermined actions that have been “melted into their blood and implemented in their actions” by external forces. These actions come from the model operas of the Mao Zedong era, which were well known during the so-called “passionate burning years.” However, in Liu Qiming’s eyes today, they are just superficial actions because the illusory ideals of the past have long been gone and no one believes in them anymore. However, the bodies of the characters have been preserved by the artist. Therefore, we can see from the painting that these dancing figures do not have much characterization, and everything is only suggestive and outline.
These mechanical and rigid dramatic characters and the red ropes hanging from above are so mismatched that we can’t help but doubt whether these falling people can be saved by them. In fact, this delicate rope is just a thread of life, unable to bear the weight of so much history and politics. It is symbolic and suggestive, like the red underwear, red scarf, and red flag that appear in some works. They are symbols of the unbearable weight of life and the sigh of the unbearable lightness of being.
The heavy and gloomy background is connected to the light and bizarre foreground by a lifeline, which is compared to the thread of human life. However, it is so delicate that it cannot bear the power and radiance of life. Thus, a strong sense of crisis and unease surges through the picture, floating and ubiquitous, and no one can truly escape its control. This is Liu Qiming’s tragic awareness, and it can at least evoke the audience’s sense of sorrow.
Date: June 10th, 2008