Jiang Qigu

Jiang Qigu's monumental ink brush paintings of male bodies, created with simple, sensitive lines and dots, are innovative and highlight his impressive skill in using the classic Chinese ink technique in a modern, expressionist way.

Jiang studied ink brush painting in China and moved to the USA in his thirties to continue his studies. He is now a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His painting is shown at exhibitions worldwide, and is highly prized by art collectors. In terms of style and formal quality, many art experts see his painting as an example of the fruitful fusion of multicultural influences and of the unlimited opportunities that the meeting of cultures can yield. The art historian James Elkins praises his work as "master paintings" that "take two historical traditions very seriously: the entire 3,000-year history of Chinese painting, and also the post-Renaissance history of Western figurative painting. That is what makes them so rewarding, and so refreshing."[1]

But for me, the true power in Jiang's painting lies in the way his art reflects the truth of an individual's personal feelings and life experience. This applies especially to the art from his early years in the US, between 1988 and 1994. He began the series of figure paintings after a serious car accident that took place shortly after his arrival in the States. He himself was severely injured. Simultaneously, he was struggling with another question: which were his true, honest feelings of love? His male bodies are painted with sensitive lines and gestures, faceless heads, traumatic, sensual, with blots of thick dark ink and abstract colour shapes on the rice paper's breathing surface. In Dunno What to Do, the male figure's powerful muscles and sensitive hand gesture are drawn in fine lines, and the bolder shapes resemble depressive clouds over the head and face, expressing insecurity, vulnerability and pathos. In Apart, the unbroken brush stroke feels like an impenetrable wall separating the two figures, impeding contact; both seem tormented by sorrow and guilt. Here, the artist is visualising a philosophical question: the possibility and impossibility of true love between two individuals regardless of gender and the unbearable distance that always exists between two hearts.

The male nude is not an orthodox theme in Chinese ink brush painting. It is also important to note that the circle of artists working with the traditional ink technique is more conservative than those who work in new media rooted in Western tradition, and ink painting seldom depicts overtly personal stories. But Jian Qigu, the oldest artist to participate in this exhibition, is one of those who dared break the mould. One piece is titled Tell Me Your Story – which is precisely what the artist himself did.

[1] James Elkins, "Master Paintings", Ink paintings by Qigu Jiang: Figures, Koehnline Museums of Art, 2009

Jiang Qigu 蒋奇谷

1956: born in Shanghai
1983: Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Shanghai Normal University
1990: Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Lives and works in Chicago and Shanghai