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Fantastical Realism: An Interview With Artist Qiu Jie
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Fantastical Realism: An Interview With Artist Qiu Jie

Picture of Thomas Storey
Updated: 27 January 2016
Chinese artist Qiu Jie’s intricate, multi-layered pencil drawings combine Chinese propaganda imagery, motifs from Western consumerism and traditional Chinese art forms in a beguiling mixture of history and fantasy. He tells us about his work and the way in which he developed his unique style, on the eve of his exhibition at Singapore’s Art Plural Gallery: Qiu Jie: Solo Exhibition, which runs from the 13th of September to the 26th of October.

Q: Your practice is informed by many different stylistic and cultural traditions. How would you define your artistic style?

A: To define my style, I have to talk about my tools, pencil and paper. When looking at a part of a drawing, it is difficult to recognize that it is from me, unlike for Picasso for example. One could say it is from a student of the Beaux Arts Academy. My style, or better said, my speech, is linked to the involvement, the patience required by these tools for each single drawing. It lies in the concept more than the aesthetics.

Q: A recurrent theme in your work is the realist imagery of socialist propaganda. What meaning does this imagery have for you and how do you try and use it in your work?

A: Propaganda belongs to the roots of my artistic education. When I was 10 years old during the Cultural Revolution, I used to copy propaganda drawings from newspapers. China is not what it used to be, but today, another form of economic propaganda is developing around the world. When you look at advertisings from H&M for instance, there is always a woman smiling even in winter and a James Bond kind of man. We have inherited from political propaganda and my work is about this. I am using the propaganda imagery I have seen in my youth as well as the aesthetics of contemporary advertising.

Q: Animals often feature in your work and you engage in anthropomorphism in various ways, particularly through your Mao series, why does this animal or feline imagery have such importance to you?

A: Mao is a pun on words, it means ‘cat’ in Chinese. There is thus a phonetic confrontation between the cat and the president. In the 1970’s, it was forbidden to kill cats because it was interpreted as killing the president. The animal has thus become a political reference and I use it ironically dressed with a Mao costume. Also, the imagery of the cat has been following me through my artistic career. There is a cat at home that we call Mao and the Mao series started with a portrait of this cat. Then it evolved and it is now very special in my work.

Q: You combine both cultural and political motifs from the East and the West. To what extent is this fusion intentional, or is it a natural result of your upbringing?