Qu Leilei is a talented and influential contemporary Chinese artist who holds a significant place in the history of art. He was one of the founding members of the Stars Group (1979), the very first movement that fought for artistic freedom and launched the beginning of Contemporary Chinese Art. Since then, Qu Leilei has continued to create ground-breaking artworks, perpetually revealing his ability to master both Eastern and Western traditions. Globally recognised, his work has been collected by some of the most prestigious museums such as The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Ashmolean Museum, The Japan Modern Art Museum, The China National Art Museum, Barclays Bank, and more recently by The British Museum.
As Michael Sullivan, the highly regarded authority in Chinese art explained, there are three things that make Qu Leilei so special: firstly his unquestionable talent, as there is nothing he cannot do. One example is the human hand, one of the most complicated subjects to draw. Qu Leilei paints it beautifully, transforming it into a powerful image carrying deep human feelings of love1. Secondly, whilst some of the most prominent contemporary Chinese artists after having created a specific style that made them successful they keep repeating it, Qu Leilei cannot be confined to one single genre as he continues to explore different possibilities of forms and subjects. From his initial naive work at the end of the 1970s until today he has experimented with a diverse range of themes, reaching the highest level of beauty in his exquisite Hands and Nudes series. Thirdly, the way Qu Leilei paints his nudes is revolutionary. By combining Eastern and Western techniques Qu Leilei reveals how the Chinese medium of ink and brush can through gentle and deft gradations of lights and shades generate those tactile and sculptural feelings of Western art2. With a deep understanding of the human anatomy Qu Leilei's delicate nudes carry a variety of yin and yang elements such as luminosity and darkness, lightness and heaviness, fulness and emptiness as well as complexity and simplicity.
His works maintain an Oriental spirit and integrate it with the exceptional level of realism that was once achieved by European Renaissance masters. But while Western artists employed oil on canvas, Qu Leilei's practice preserves the Chinese tradition of ink on paper3, resulting in images aesthetically challenging and captivating. His capable hand, spirit of observation and deep commitment to art create nudes with contrasts of texture and interplays of mass and lines, stillness and movement; bodies that seem to evoke silent revelations, bodies that as Michael Sullivan defined are "both intriguing and satisfying"4.
As Qu Leilei's artistic repertoire incorporates various styles I could not help myself but select also another few of his stunning sketches and tiny delicate watercolours for this exhibition. Clearly different from his realistic nudes, these works show a freehand simplicity and exude a genuine freshness running through lines and compositions. But no matter which style we are looking at, Qu Leilei's work remains calm and tranquil. And in the serenity of his images one can perceive a sense of inner liveliness, what in Chinese is called Qiyun Shengdong. Like the ancient Chinese masters combined a high level of concentration with freedom in their brushstrokes Qu Leilei through his contemporary sensibility also creates meticulous yet spontaneous artworks; artworks whose glorious execution has achieved international recognition and continues to leave us speechless in front of its endless, silent beauty…
1In the Hands Series Qu Leilei reveals his deep concern for the destiny of humanity as the language of the human hand transcends all nationalities, social classes, and religions. His ex-pressive hands can therefore represent the story of one man, one family, one nation or the en-tire world.
2Michael Sullivan, Qu Leilei - Brush, Ink, Light, Shadows, Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art, New York, 2008
3The specific type of paper used by Qu Leilei is Xuan paper, the most suitable medium to convey the ancient spirit of Chinese calligraphy and painting.
4Michael Sullivan, Qu Leilei - Brush, Ink, Light, Shadows, Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art, New York, 2008
5Qiyun Shengdong is translated in English as "spiritual resonance and lifelike motion". This is the first and most important of the six principles formulated by Chinese art critic Xie He (479-502) in order to judge the quality and value of Chinese paintings. These principles deeply influenced artists of later generations.