A recent conversation with Yang Qi about his new installation has touched me profoundly.
The installation titled ‘Church in Assisi, 2021’ is full of artistic energy and mysticism. The material is stone-heavy “stones” cast from expensive, pure paper pulp. It Intentionally expresses a historical and chronological sensation. It wins with a casual, simple form of beauty.Sentimental, melancholic, Christian and pure! Somehow poetic in an ancient architecture from Zen.
The installation has a long history behind its creation. Yang Qi has lectured at the summer art school at Koster Steinfeld for the last 23 years. One day after his teaching, he found this 11-century monastery. It seems to appear from nowhere with towers, temples and architectural styles from Medieval to Renaissance. Since then, the place has been engraved in his soul; its spirit somehow coincides with his artistic mind.
Three years ago, Yang Qi read a book about Medieval Art in Europe and discovered the story of San Francesco d’Assisi. He was deeply touched by the Saint’s kindness, determination and self-realisation. Immediately after completing the book Yang Qi made a painting.
A few months ago, they were lockdown at home in Dusseldorf; his wife Birgit brought some DVD from the library to watch; it happened one film was about San Francesco from Assisi. He told her ‘ This isn’t a simple coincidence; it is the message from God; he is telling me to be compassionate and be a good being.’ So ‘Church in Assisi’ installation was born.
In the installation, each ‘brick’ has the colour of the original pulp. It is the raw material of papermaking from a large German paper mill. It has a gigantic machine that presses paper pulp into big “stones”. Yang Qi has to break each ‘stone’ into unequal pieces, but it’s still so heavy to move into a perfect position. Labouring and long hours into consideration is the press of his work.
I felt Iprivileged to share the artist’s spiritual journey of their creation.’Church in Assisi’ is the temple of his art. He offers his devotion, his compassion, enduring on his artistic journey. He shared his answer, ‘What is an artist?’ with the world.
Yang Qi’s, who has lived in Dusseldorf for 30 years, originated from Wuhu, China. Recently he has shortlisted for ‘Wolfgang Hahn Preis’ Wolfgang International Contemporary Art Award, Cologne Ludwig Museum, 2021. There are 43 artists nominated for this award, recommended by important institutions of contemporary art in Europe and the US, have been pioneers of art that have been active on the international’s stage for many years. For example Thomas Bayle, Wolfgang Laib, Christian Boltanski, Tracey Emin, William Kentridge, Brigitte Kowanz, Zoe Leonard etc.
Here are some photos from his recent solo exhibition ‘ Here is There’ at Chun Art Museum in Shanghai, 2021.
Today we would like to share a collection of his large paintings, with the article ‘Dialogue between abstract, figurative and contemporary’ by Beate Reifenscheid, Prof. Dr Director of Ludwig Museum Koblenz.
Alone is not lonely 2020, Acrylic-on-canvas, 100cmx80cm
Yang Qi is renowned as an abstract painter in Germany. By the end of the 1990s, the viewers had become familiar with his free brushwork and sharpness, the impasto and rich texture, and retained Chinese culture with the blackest Chinese ink in his painting.
Get together, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm
From many perspectives, Yang Qi has seriously challenged Chinese brush painting that has dominated Chinese art from ancient times to the present. He uses his brush unrestrainedly, powerfully, exploring extremely concise compositions, fascinated the simplest of forms. If his new language in his painting, can clearly illustrate Chinese spirit and reflect the colour changes in those brush works; then many of his sculpting structures are undoubtedly nurtured. This language works well for his particularly eye-catching large-scale abstract paintings in mixture materials especially. The texture and volume of asphalt surface, vividly express the difference between it and Chinese ink painting. The artistic characteristic is that he can use a mixture of ink and water to paint on thin rice paper and paint with asphalt instead of ink. The texture, especially the rhythm his brush makes in his painting, reminds us of the mixed material painters, the famous German abstract artists Homer and Schumacher. The works reflect their endeavour, the paintings achieved a vivid and lively nature, and embody the perfect abstraction’s figurative expression.
One night story, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm
Magic boy, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm
Homer created his fascinating ‘Aitna – Circular’ Works in the 90s. He incorporated volcanic stones into the sculpture. On the other hand, Schumacher used big fast asphalt fragments and sand to mix abstract and real natural materials. They clearly stated that the creative power of nature and its auxiliary materials appearing in the paintings, while also reflecting the abstract painting language of nature itself. It is sufficient to prove that abstract forms are equivalent to the most realistic and concrete. The witness of existence is real. The painting language related to abstract painting is inseparable from its current object conditions; otherwise, it will be greatly distorted in recognition. Because abstract painting emphasises getting rid of the set concrete form. This also applies to a natural and realistic mindset. 1992 Nian Emil – Schumacher wrote his own profound feeling: ‘In fact, painting is always a process of changing form. I have a dialectical view. Break and stand. In this sense, I want to let them explain some paintings. Therefore, I often try to break the picture.’
The artist as Hermit 2004-19 oil and acryl on canvas 160 cm x 120 cm
The artist as Hermit 2004-19 oil and acryl on canvas 160 cm x 120 cm
In recent years, Yang Qi’s works have become more intriguing. He has constantly challenged two painting concepts. This is actually in line with the law of contradiction and harmony. For example, the Chinese ink painting developed from Chinese calligraphy is already very abstract. It was not only influenced by Zen Buddhism but also inspired European artists after World War II. Also, in Chinese ink painting and “The “non-figurative” painting produced a direct response. In his second vision, Yang Qi broadened China and Europe’s artistic concepts and questioned abstraction and figurative. Therefore, his easel painting combined the use of comprehensive materials. Although he drew lessons from Homer and Schumacher, he devoted himself to image painting and was close to the real-life world. Emil Schumacher realised that his paintings could not remain abstract in the long run. So he turned to the image. He was using extremely refined lines to determine the picture. He once said in 1997, “Colour has created a world of mine, but she needs image support. I paint, I combine, and I integrate it all into one. ”
The artist as Hermit 2004-19 oil and acryl on canvas 160 cm x 120 cm
The artist as Hermit 2004-19 oil and acryl on canvas 160 cm x 120 cm
For more than 20 years, Yang Qi has always used various possible expression techniques to inject figures into his paintings. These are clearly reflected in his photographic works, installation art, video works, ceramics, and ink paintings, especially in his easel paintings. Interestingly, these works of his characters still have a more or less abstract feeling to the audience. The audience can tell at a glance that, like the past works, they are a bridge between two cultures. Yang Qi has maintained the particularity of his own cultural model for a long time, and at the same time incorporates elements of Western culture into his art. Obviously, without Yang Qi’s profound foundation in Chinese tradition, his large-scale ink paintings would not have reached such a high level in the past five years. He has mastered the picture’s spatial layout, the exciting plot, including a unique combing of the overall picture. He is unassuming and lives quietly in a profound connection that is more meaningful than Chinese culture. Don’t deliberately insist on what you must win. His expansive free images directly hit the audience, and even the audience often involuntarily enters the plot in his paintings. The plot in his painting comes directly from the centre of his life. The narration of his pictures transcends national boundaries and maintains the cultural origins of various nationalities. Each story has its own history. Some are even personal experiences, but he does not make special statements.
A man with lotus, 2018 Acrylic on canvas 210cmx160cm
Together, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm
Yang Qi is good at occupying the whole canvas with a single figure. Eliminate trivial descriptions. From this, it reminds me of the narrative of the plot in a surrealist painting. The compositions of his paintings are specific plots and images that are related to the context. That allows the audience to use their imagination freely.
Angelika, 2019 Acrylic on canvas 120cmx100cm
Yang Qi’s easel paintings developed the tradition of the layout. What he is concerned about is how to express the theme. Each painting focuses on the figures and then makes an individual’s artistic description according to their behaviours. Yang Qi uses extremely simple or agitated lines to outline objects. Unlike his ink painting, the figures on the canvas are usually in a specific theme. It expresses a fixed, unchangeable, independent character painting without extra space. Yang Qi’s colour method is also consistent with this form of expression. Thinking back to how Yang Qi succeeded in painting with abstract materials and integrated materials, people will naturally understand how his experience of using materials has given new life to these new works. He used the abstract techniques developed since his 90s to express the realistic figures in his new works uniquely. The narrative festival updated the artistic expression of ancient Chinese painting.
Theater, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm.
Monika, 2019 Acrylic on canvas 120cmx100cm
Venus and her friends, 2018 Acrylic on canvas 210cmx160cm
Yang Qi’s painting art has three decisive themes: figure painting (portraits, and other styles), landscape (mountain, water), and animals (especially birds). For Yang Qi, these all belong to his special category of figure painting and object painting. He always observes and watches them in his life. This will help the audience understand the art and character composition of Yang Qi’s paintings. At least the audience can find themselves to explain Yang Qi’s paintings. Simultaneously, he expanded the spatial distance through close-ups of the pictures’ Colour and texture, highlighting the difference between the real world and the other art world. The characters in Yang Qi’s paintings live vividly in his traditional Chinese painting environment.
Illusion 2018 Acrylic on canvas 210cmx160cm
Where you are from, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm.
A friend Indeed, 2018 Acrylic on canvas 210cmx160cm.
We love art, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 100cmx80cm.
Yang Qi’s CV
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Conversation with Yang Qi is always inspiring and fills you with joyful laughter. He got this great sense of humour and endless passion, qualities that also make their way into his art which poignantly depicts the spirit of the contemporary experience. His recent large painting titled “Sleepless” is a great example of this.
Yang Qi, lives in Dusseldorf. He started painting “Sleepless” at the beginning of the German lockdown and for 2 months he painted through the whole of every night, thus creating a 70m x 50cm Neo-expressionist painting that is dominated by only two colours: Black and White.
This is an absurd and surrealistic painting process, and it reveals Yang’s inner psychological activities during those nights. By only applying black and white colours he expresses the intensity and originality of his emotions, and coincidentally the contrasts that this creates also fit in well with Yang’s background, as an Eastern artist lives in the Western world for the last thirty years.
The painting is a labour of love, absurd, suspicious, unknowing, inspiring and dream-like, bringing us into a surreal world. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen so many people and countries that are in a state of isolation, even panic, and many people rightly feel nervous. In this kind of collective depression, as an artist, Yang Qi transcends the state of reality by engaging in a very interesting activity, which is a psychological activity of the artist himself, an activity which is confined to his own world, but also an activity that is art. By his nightly creations he has jumped out of our collective reality and when studying the painting you have to look at the world and what is happening through his mind, which he himself has fully immersed himself in. His mind is like the state of a game, so are his characters, his surrounding, his depictions, his performance, and they are all different from those of a realist. In his painting Yang Qi has expressed himself absolutely and unreservedly, his own unconscious activities, and through his subjective force, it can resist the current external interferences and disturbances.
Read about more about Yang Qi.
YANG QI’S BIOGRAPHY OF ART LIFE
I was born in an artist’s family. My father graduated, around the end of 1930s, from Suzhou Art Institute, one of the predecessor institutes that constituted the unsurpassed China Academy of Art today. Suzhou Art Institute was established in the 1930s by Mr. Yan Wenliang, a great modern painting master and educator, together with a group of Chinese artists who studied in French. Later, my father continued his study in the art department of Central University under Chinese painting master Xu Beihong’s education. After a long period of training and studying, my father soon became an influential artist and art professor in southern China. My mother was born in Frankfurt, Germany; my grandparents went to Germany at a young age to study. They lived there as doctors after getting their PhDs. So I also attained a bit of Western education as a child.
In my early memories, in great interest, my brothers and I often watched my father painting. Sometimes we also made casual drawings mimicking our father’s work. He often gave us some lessons, telling us stories of traditional Chinese poetry and foreign arts. Unconsciously influenced by this creative atmosphere, my original interest in painting developed. I spent my childhood and teenage years painting with my father, discovering initially how to sketch, sculpt and paint spontaneously around the same period. Apparently, my father was my first teacher of the arts.
I was influenced by different artists during different times, most of whom were Western artists. The one and only Chinese artist who influenced me greatly was Feng Zikai, a famous modern painter, prose writer and art educator. Influenced by my father during childhood, I have also seen many paintings in Feng Zikai’s books created during the War of Resistance Against Japan. Those empathetic images of life scenes, and the poems written with the paintings, rooted themselves deeply in my mind for a long time. Foreign artists such as Picasso and Chagall influenced me significantly; living in Europe, German expressionism and later neo-expressionism both transformed me from a Chinese artist into a representative figure of German neo-expressionism, which has been an important process for my art.
My work, to a large extent, is based on Chinese and German philosophies, such as Taoism, as well as Heidegger’s theories. In terms of arts, German artist Joseph Beuys raised my interest greatly when I first came to Germany.
I don’t favour pop art much as I am more into academic art. I have spent a long time developing and creating art with an academic focus.
There are a few things in life that have influenced my art. The first thing was coming to Germany to see great masterpieces in person that I had previously seen in magazines. From classicism to renaissance, from medieval arts to modern and contemporary ages, I ventured among as many masterpieces as I could. With a great dedication of time and interest, I studied and compared their works, contemplating how my own art could reach and exceed their accomplishments. I also have seen many original artworks by European artists in galleries, including some artists I didn’t know.
The above experience was an important transformational point in the way I think about the arts: there have been so many people in the world creating different artworks that I should continue my path creating something different from existing forms; I should create something of my own. Moving from China to Germany, from an Eastern world to the West meant my entire artistic insight has transformed within a complete change of environment. In the West, especially in Germany during the late 80s and 90s which was its rapid flourishing period of contemporary art, I attained great knowledge of the arts.
The second major point was my shift from abstract art to figurative art. I have always longed to fuse Zen, Taoism and German dialecticism into my artwork. I had been thinking about the way I paint, the feelings I have when I paint and the changing of my style, so I did abstract paintings. At the end of 90s, after being exhibited in many major art museums in China and Germany, I felt that it was time for a change. Thus, my art-making became very free and wild when I changed from abstract to figurative work.
Neo-expressionism has influenced me, freeing me from abstraction and leading me back to figurative painting. It has become a significant part of my art. I gradually changed from pure abstract style to figurative painting, incorporating academic techniques from the late 90s. Later, I noticed that my works appeared differently, meaning my own style was established confidently with more feelings and emotions added in. It was in the late 1990s in Germany when some European critics called me a “rising neo-expressionist in abstract art with unique style”.
The third important thing was my long working period during which I made art installations. This started from the late 90s alongside my paintings and continues today. I participated in many art exhibition with both my paintings and installations, from group shows to solo shows. Those installations stand for my own style to a major extent. An artist should not only do paintings, but also should use various artistic elements to express his styles, showing a comprehensive artistic consideration with diversified art languages. Many famous artists today use diverse artistic media, varying from paintings to sculptures and to a wider range of styles. Art develops into an intensively diversified portfolio of forms. This has encouraged me to devote my time to creating paintings, installations, photography and multi-media arts, which all formed my contemporary artistic expression in the 21st century as a whole. I think, as an artist, the process of changing and transforming artistic styles is also a process of self-revolution and self-introspection.
The forth important thing has been to raise the quality of my art to new heights after being declared a German neo-expressionist. For fifteen years since 2002, I have participated in many major art exhibitions throughout the world, which has been a great encouragement for me to continue creating art. Being a recognized artist in the West, I am able to promote and express my own art style. This experience has been exceptional to me, giving me great confidence in my artistic life. An artist is meant to be confident and proud, otherwise his art will show timidity. I was able to advocate for myself and push my art to a higher level, to be compared with international artists and to join important exhibitions, which would be hugely encouraging for any artist.
I left China thirty years ago, thus I always look at issues happening in China with a foreigner’s perspective. Looking at the media’s presentations, I don’t really care about politics; those major political issues seem irrelevant to me.
Issues in Europe or other parts of the world, or even social development topics, are to an artist objective matters which he should be looking at with his own angle and position. He should not be swayed by the issues, unless there are wars or similar chaos. I think in a peaceful environment in Europe, people’s life and society, as well as the broader culture and cultivation opportunities are not vastly influential in an artist’s development.
Any interview question asking about my choice of style and technique appears a bit absurd. A successful artist does not choose his style or technique, but forms the style after a life-long exploration of his artistic development. He forms this style, instead of choosing it, to create art. I express my art with heart and flesh, with my spirit and whole soul. It’s a matter of independence for an artist; he needs not to listen to others’ opinions. An artist is in a world of his own, thus he could influence the outside world as a whole. I have not chosen a style.
This interview should not be a show, thus I want to express what is true to me, saying what I want to say to the media. Other things are not related to me. I am responsible to my own art, and to myself. How people praise or criticise my art should be a very natural thing.