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“Fissuring – landscape, 2012, ” by Qiu Deshu, is a reinvention of traditional drawing with ink on rice paper. (Photo: Michael Goedhuis Gallery)

For the first half of his career, the artist Qiu Deshu largely rode the seismic shifts of Chinese history.

Mr. Qiu, who was born in Shanghai in 1948, studied traditional Chinese arts, including seal carving, scroll mounting and ink painting, along with Western oil painting. As a teenager in the 1960s, he worked as an artist for the Red Guard, creating propaganda for the Cultural Revolution. In the 1970s, while working in a plastics factory, he gained status as an important “worker-painter.” After the Cultural Revolution, he became the leader of the artists collective Cao Cao Hua She, the Grass Painting Society, to plant new seeds of expression on what he thought was finally terra firma.

But in 1980, when he faced government criticism for defining the group’s goals — independent spirit, independent technique, and independent style — Mr. Qiu grasped where he really stood in society.

“I looked down one day and I saw the cracks in the pavement and I felt an immediate connection to them,” Mr. Qiu said through an interpreter over the telephone from his home in Shanghai. “That’s how my life was — broken. And that’s how I discovered how I should make my work.”

He settled on a technique that he now calls “fissuring,” which involves drawing with ink on rice paper, then tearing it into pieces, and then adding more paper, drawing or painting with acrylics, and tearing that away. Ultimately, it looks like a bas-relief sculptural work with layers of paper and paint. He feels this aesthetic reflects not only his voice as an artist, but his life experiences as well.

Mr. Qiu represents a generation of Chinese contemporary artists who since the 1980s have reclaimed ancient ink-painting techniques to create what is now known as ink arts. He is the subject of a retrospective at the Michael Goedhuis Gallery beginning on Thursday and running through Nov. 15 to coincide with Asian Art in London, which runs through Nov. 10.

It is a category of painting that is receiving increasing attention from Asian and Western curators and collectors, said Clarissa von Spee, curator for the Chinese and Central Asian Collections at the British Museum.

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Nina Siegal
New York Times

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