QIN FENGDesire Scenery No. 051, 2014, acrylic on silk cotton paper, 153.4 × 178 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

Portraits and Desire

Qin Feng

Ben Brown Fine Arts
Hong Kong China

Chinese artist Qin Feng’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, at Ben Brown Fine Arts, is a selection of works from his “Portraits of the Great” (2014) and “Desire Scenery” (2012–14) series. Known for his dynamic interpretation of ink painting, Qin blends the stylization of traditional Chinese ink painting with contemporary aesthetics, creating a harmonious blend of Western and Eastern motifs that is expressed in a manner reminiscent of abstract expressionist painters.

Born in the remote Xinjiang region of northwest China, Qin went to Shandong University of Art and Design and was trained in classical painting and calligraphy. In 1996 he moved to Berlin, and three years later he relocated again to New York, and then subsequently to Boston. His itinerate nature enabled him to experience different cultures, which changed his approach to painting from a previously classical style to a now more contemporary approach. In an interview with Christie’s in 2013, the artist stated that he continues to learn and experience the different cultural aspects from both the East and the West and aims to capture their essence in his works.

QIN FENGDesire Scenery No. 047, 2014, acrylic on silk cotton paper, 153 × 283 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

With its soft lighting and spare selection of works, Qin’s exhibition at Ben Brown provokes a juxtaposition of emotion. Abstract paintings from “Portraits of the Great” evoke expressive, dynamic action, while those from “Desire Scenery” stimulate a sense of introspection and calm. Though the two series stir contrasting emotive qualities, they are visually similar, giving off a strong collective image of Qin’s creative tendencies.

As visitors enter, setting the tone for the gallery is a selection from the “Desire Scenery” series, constructed with layers of thick paper, which have been peeled back and distressed to reveal a circular, pink center. Painted on silk cotton paper, the central image of Desire Scenery No. 051 (2014) is a slightly disfigured pink circle with four layers of thick, peeled paper, the second of which is also pink while the rest are earthy brown. Qin’s exploration of textures and colors is highlighted in another work from the series, Desire Scenery No. 047 (2014). This work is compositionally split into two frames, where the left is an organic form that has its border smudged in black ink, while the right is filled with four, oval overlapping patches. The top most patch is light brown, the one underneath it is gray, followed by pink and dark brown patches with black distressed lining. In both works, Qin creates dimension using multiple layers of paper along with a black outer ring to create a sense of depth.

QIN FENGPortraits of the Great No. 054, 2014, acrylic on silk cotton paper, 150 × 290 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

In another area of the gallery, paintings from “Portraits of the Great” fill the room. With their bold and dynamic black brushstrokes, the works command attention. The series’ silk cotton paper is a softer brown tint, and in the center of the paintings are prints of 19th-century European gilded frames. In Portraits of the Great No. 054 (2014), there is an ornate, blue rectangular frame inscribed within the canvas, with the empty spaces filled by calligraphic black paint spilling out of the frame, refusing to be encapsulated. The struggle between the traditional and contemporary signifies Qin’s rejection of the mentality that the two styles cannot intermingle. In the same work, thin red lines of paint encircle the black brushstrokes and frame, evoking arteries connecting past and present, life and death, and representing the interconnectivity of different cultures. In Portraits of the Great No. 057 (2014), the canvas is inscribed with two bronze frames. The black brushstrokes are not entirely abstract; they are derived from linguistic symbols that represent civilization and culture. Qin’s interest in language stems from the way humans uses it to interpret the reality we live in today, allowing people to shape and influence the way we view and respond to the modern world.

Inspired by years spent living around the world, Qin challenges conventional interpretations of ink painting by deconstructing traditional methods of calligraphy. In an exhibition that pushes the confines of the traditional and the contemporary, Qin invites the viewer to reflect on the conventional separation of the two categories while providing a glimpse of what can arise when boundaries between the two are allowed to blur.

QIN FENGPortraits of the Great No. 057, 2014, acrylic on silk cotton paper, 150 × 314 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

“Qin Feng: Portraits and Desire” is currently on view at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, until September 10, 2016.