Installation view of QU FENGGUO’s “Midsummer” at Don Gallery, Shanghai, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Don Gallery.


Qu Fengguo

Don Gallery

Qu Fengguo is thought of as a structuralist abstract painter. Like a few other notable Shanghai-based painters of his generation—Ding Yi and Huang Yuanqing, also born in the early or mid-1960s, and the slightly older Shen Fan, born a decade earlier, come to mind—Qu is part of a core group of painters who have honed a steadfast and rigorous practice. It is difficult to pin down the current trends in much of today’s Chinese abstract painting without often-applied comparisons to Western counterparts. There is a rational and clear-headed approach in Qu’s polychromatic and rhythmic paintings that evoke the famous dictum by American artist Frank Stella: “What you see is what you see.”

Qu’s love affair with abstraction and linear form can be traced back to the 1990s when he first started exhibiting his work shortly after graduating from the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 1988. Although Qu has remained somewhat under the radar—perhaps more by choice rather than by the pressures or ambitions of the market—his paintings have steadily matured with apparent ease and elegance for almost three decades.

For his eighth solo show in Shanghai, simply titled “Midsummer,” 12 recent paintings created from 2015 to the present as part of Qu’s ongoing series “Four Seasons,” which he had begun a decade earlier around 2005, were on view. The paintings are all oil on canvas in a horizontal format, ranging from 80 × 100 centimeters to 200 × 300 centimeters, taking their titles as well as their inspirations from specific Chinese solar cycle terminology within the Chinese calendar.

Left to right: Qing Ming, Spring ShowersCorn Rain, all 2016, from the series “Four Seasons,” 2005–17, oil on canvas, 145 × 220 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Don Gallery, Shanghai.

QU FENGGUO, Summer Commences 2, 2017, from the series “Four Seasons,” 2005–17, oil on canvas, 200 × 300 cm. Courtesy the artist.
QU FENGGUO, Summer Commences 2, 2017, from the series “Four Seasons,” 2005–17, oil on canvas, 200 × 300 cm. Courtesy the artist.

Rejecting the traditional use of brushes and shunning most conventional methods of painting, Qu has devised a technique whereby he applies paint directly to the surface of his canvases using the edges of carefully measured slats of wood determined by the horizontal length and scale of each painting.  Long, precise bands of color are then built layer by layer—like fragments forming sentences—with a predetermined and dominate color, resulting in an overall plane of color. A squeegee or some other scraping instrument is used to slightly blur or soften the edges between the lines. Then, striations of additional colors are methodically added, serving as punctuating accents and creating subtle spatial depth: gold and emerald bands, for instance, work against larger fields of hot pink or Day-Glo magenta as in Summer Commences 2 (2017). In another work, Corn Rain 2, also from 2017, moodier shades of purple and blue coalesce with yellow or burnt umber, offering autumnal tones. It is hard, however, to ignore the imposing structural imperatives in these paintings. One can’t help but associate the labor-intensive, incremental process of their making—line by line, layer by layer—with geological substratum or other organic formations. In a number of these works a new element is introduced, namely that of a bisected chevron or steeple-like perpendicular wedge, which appears slightly off-center and seamlessly blends, camouflage-like, with the paintings’ surfaces. This compositional device works well and suggests that perhaps Qu might consider moving beyond the horizontal landscape format, which can seem somewhat redundant.

However, these nuanced geometric elements were somewhat overshadowed by the show’s slightly deceptive installation. Works were shown too close together and distracted from one another.  For example, a lovely pair of smaller works, Insects Waken 1 and Insects Waken 2 (2017), could have been misconstrued as a diptych rather than two individual paintings—perhaps as an attempt to overcompensate for their similarities in color and composition.  This too held true for three larger paintings from 2016, Qing Ming, Spring Showers, and Corn Rain. When viewed together, they appeared like a misleading triptych featuring a run-on horizon line spanning almost eight meters, rather than separate works suggesting the transitional passage of three singular seasonal cycles. Qu’s paintings need to breathe, demanding space in order to reward the viewer’s experience. Despite these minor missteps, Qu Fengguo’s “Midsummer” offered a preemptive, cool tranquility and contemplative respite from the coming dog days ahead.    

Qu Fengguo’s solo exhibition is on view at Don Gallery, Shanghai, until July 23, 2017. 

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QU FENGGUOInsects Waken 1, 2017, from the series “Four Seasons," 2005–17, oil on canvas, 80 × 100 cm. Courtesy the artist.

QU FENGGUO, Insects Waken 2, 2017, from the series “Four Seasons," 2005–17, oil on canvas, 80 × 100 cm. Courtesy the artist.