“I pretend to be a flawless machine, but my work is actually laborious,” says QiuChen Fan, whose painstaking brushstrokes dissolve into flat fields of monochromatic color with a little patience. Inspired by the stripped-down aesthetics of Modernism, QiuChen embraces order, clarity, and simplicity in response to the gross materialism that defines the contemporary era.
“Many people believe what they see or only what they want to believe,” she says, naming fake heiress and con artist extraordinaire Anna Delvey as a symbol of our fascination with wealth and appearance, no matter how counterfeit. A quote from German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld—“the clothes don’t have to suit you; you have to suit the clothes”—prompted QiuChen to create Manikins, a series of acrylic figure paintings that explore the significance of appearance in contemporary culture. “[Karl’s quote] made me realize that it’s possible to create a personality based solely on matching criteria from fashion magazines,” she says. “What does it mean to be ‘well dressed’? What look makes you a ‘lady,’ a ‘gentleman,’ too ‘conservative,’ too ‘pretentious,’ or too ‘feminine’? I play with these cliches of identity and culture because we still judge people through these visual cues, no matter how rude or ignorant.”
Born in Kunming, China, QiuChen immigrated to the US after she nabbed a scholarship from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her work, while heavily influenced by Western ideology, draws from the concept of liu bai (留白), a term that refers to negative space in traditional Chinese art. “This idea can be seen in my paintings, where figures are either blended into backgrounds or into each other,” QiuChen says. “From a philosophical standpoint, the concept of liu bai can be considered as an expression of the Taoist principle of wu wei (无为), or ‘non-doing.’ This idea suggests that by embracing emptiness and stillness, one can achieve a state of harmony and balance.”
Painted in smart silhouettes, the women and men in Manikins circle one another with viscous appraisal, their true intent hidden behind smooth surfaces and tailored jackets. Stripped of any excess, the figures flaunt their expensive ensembles without embarrassment, unaware or unconcerned over waste, sustainability, or any underlying virtues. Viewers are invited to marvel at the clean compositions and chic costuming, becoming complicit in the easy joys of materialism and outward appearance.
“Many people believe what they see or only what they want to believe.” — QiuChen Fan
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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