Bodies in Darkness and Light 你的身体,我的锁骨

March 29, 2019 2019年3月29日
Wave and Reef 3, oil on canvas (120 x 150 cm)

On a hazy Saturday afternoon, Beijing’s 798 Art Zone feels like a small city center, buzzing with activity. There’s a refreshing excitement for art in the air. Chinese contemporary painter Xie Qi has agreed to meet in a coffee shop opposite UCCA to discuss her latest series of oil paintings, Clavicle.

“The themes I like the most are the big ones in life—tragedy and comedy together,” says the artist. Xie has been exploring the use of light and the human figure for years, giving her work a quality that’s both spectral and corporeal. For Clavicle, she added a new layer of drama by depicting the human body in various natural poses illuminated by expressive bands of light. The artist sees the clavicle as a line between portraiture and figuration, an axis holding the surrounding parts into focus.

在一个天气朦胧的周六下午,北京的 798 艺术区感觉就像一个缩小的市中心,人声鼎沸,热闹非凡,空气中弥漫着一股因艺术而生的兴奋气息。中国当代画家谢其此时正在 UCCA 尤伦斯当代艺术中心对面的咖啡馆里,讨论着她的最新油画作品系列《锁骨》(Clavicle)。


Purple Invading Red, oil on canvas (146 x 112 cm)
Timid and Strained 1, oil on canvas (88.5 x 69 cm)

Xie moved from Chongqing to Beijing more than 20 years ago to attend the Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University. She often wonders why she hasn’t left the city yet, especially since rocketing studio prices are making it increasingly hard for artists to support themselves. But she says the difficulties are worth it: “Comfortable is not good for art. Beijing relates directly to my work, and here I have to keep things simple.” Besides, she adds, the city gathers open-minded people from all walks of life, such as her friends, many of whom are her subjects for Clavicle.

20 多年前,谢其从重庆搬到北京,进入清华大学美术学院学习。她经常问自己为什么还没有离开这座城市,尤其是不断上涨的工作室租金让艺术家的生存变得日益困难。但她认为,承受这种困难是值得的:“舒适安逸并不利于艺术创作。北京与我的作品是直接相连的,而生活在这里代表我必须一切从简。”此外,她补充说,这座城市聚集许多来自各行各业的心态开放的人,譬如说她的朋友,其中许多位还成为了《锁骨》系列的模特儿。

Ruth Ruth in Blue, oil on canvas (77 x 155 cm)
Wave and Reef 2, oil on canvas (117 x 91 cm)
Timid and Strained 3, oil on canvas (117 x 91 cm)

Her process for this series began with setting the lights and photographing her subjects. “This was a moment different from ordinary life,” she says. “We could feel each other.” Based on the photos, she then drew on the canvas, paint the first layer, wait several days for it to dry, and then paint the second layer. It took her years to complete the entire series.

One of the most fascinating portraits is the profile of a man with a fearful expression, only partly visible in the ethereal darkness. Xie met the subject, French Lacanian psychoanalyst Michel Guibal, during an art residency in Paris. Guibal trained the very first school of Chinese students of Lacan. When Xie Qi took his photograph, he was ill and bedridden, but that didn’t prevent him from sitting for her. He passed away shortly thereafter.


其中最引人入胜的一张画像是一个男人的侧脸,脸上流露着恐惧的表情,在虚无的黑暗中若隐若现。这幅画的原型是法国拉康学派精神分析学家吉布尔(Michel Guibal),谢其是在巴黎一个艺术家驻留项目中与他相识。吉布尔是第一个给中国学生培训拉康的讲师。谢其拍摄他的照片当时他正身患重病,卧床不起。但他依然努力坐起来给她拍摄。在那不久之后,吉布尔就去世了。

Ruth, oil on canvas (120 x 120 cm)
Guibal, oil on canvas (120 x 120 cm)
Mr Meng, oil on canvas (110 x 90 cm)
Wave and Reef 1, oil on canvas (150 x 120 cm)

One might say that there is a psychological analysis behind Clavicle, as if the paintings were a direct representation of the mental state of the subjects. The artist, however, maintains that the identity and narrative of her subjects were never important to her—the body was not a means to an end; it was the actual end. “Appearance and shape, observed from different angles, are truly the main points,” she explains. “But of course there is always something behind it.”


Red Painted Body, oil on canvas (90 x 60 cm)

Xie’s dramatic use of light also powerfully conveys emotions. “The lights put the subjects on a stage, connoting a certain predicament or dilemma,” she notes. For her recent show in Shanghai, she expanded this use of light outside the canvas, with an installation of neon lights that immerses the audience in her world. She had the idea after learning that the gallery space had previously been a massage parlor and front for a brothel. She plays with the sordid history of the building, adding a new layer of lechery to the exhibition.

The Clavicle series is a breakthrough for the artist. She will soon release a catalog of the exhibition containing all the artworks. Given the explicit nature of the content, she’ll have to find an independent publisher, yet she doesn’t seem bothered much by this fact. “As an artist,” she says, “I have to find a way.”





Contributor: Tomás Pinheiro
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li



供稿人: Tomás Pinheiro
英译中: Olivia Li