Overview

Qiu Deshu founded The Grass Painting Society (Cao Cao Hua She), one of China’s first experimental art societies in the post-Mao era. The Grass Painting Society was a group of twelve artists who advocated independence of spirit, technique and style in painting.

 

Qiu grew up in Shanghai, where he studied art at the Luwan District Children’s Palace. He became an enthusiastic Red Guard painter during the Cultural Revolution. Assigned to the Luwan District Cultural Center after the Cultural Revolution, he arranged many apolitical exhibitions in the late 1970s.

 

In 1979, he founded The Grass Painting Society and organized the ambitious Caocao exhibition in 1980, which was attacked for “abstract tendencies” and forced to close prematurely. For Qiu, abstraction was a position to be taken in opposition to both Maoist socialist realism and the official art of the 1980s. Because of the political difficulties that resulted from the Caocao exhibition in 1980, Qiu was relieved of curatorial duties and was marginalized in the Chinese art world.

 

Despite an absence of formal art academy training, Qiu Deshu is exceptional in his early revolution of upending formal elements of ink painting. Between 1979 and 1983, Qiu began experimenting with the relationship between abstract painting and calligraphy, inventing a technique he called “Fissuring”. Fissuring involves applying vivid ink and color onto Xuan paper, tearing it up, reconfiguring the pieces, and mounting them onto a canvas to form images, creating lines and fissures. Qiu makes inventive use of Xuan paper’s hue, delicacy, pliability and water permeability by applying solid or abstract patterns of ink and color onto the backing paper or canvas, and pastes fragments of Xuan paper onto the surface that he rubs and carves to allow the color to show beneath. This process of creation, destruction and recreation conveys aspects of Qiu’s experiences in Chinese literati painting (wenrenhua) and of life through the Cultural Revolution.

 

In 1985 to 1986 he spent a year as a visiting scholar at Tufts University in Boston and began exhibiting abroad. Upon his return to China in 1986, he resigned his state employment and became a professional artist. He has exhibited widely overseas since 1985 and has had two major solo exhibitions in China, at the Shanghai Art Museum, in 1994 and 2008.

 

Major group exhibitions include Oil & Water: Reinterpreting Ink, Works by Qiu Deshu, Wei Jia and Zhang Hongtu, Museum of Chinese in America, New York, US (2014); Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong (2013); Ink: The New Ink Art from China, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2012); Taste of the East: Masterpieces of Chinese Art, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2012); Open Flexibility: Innovative Contemporary Ink Art, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2009).

Works