What, then, is so special about Qu Leilei? Three things, I feel, mark him out. The first is sheer talent. As a painter and draftsman, there is nothing he cannot do. Surely the human hand is one of the most difficult things to draw; but not only does he draws hands beautifully; he makes of them a powerful image expressive of thoughts, feelings, humanity, and love.
The second thing, is that while some of the most successful modern Chinese artists, having achieved a popular style or subject-matter, keep on repeating themselves, Qu Leilei, when he has fully explored the possibilities of one form, or subject, moves on to explore another. So he has never stayed still for long.
From his first naïve work in the 1979 and 1980 Beijing exhibitions of the radical Stars, of which he was one of the youngest members, he has moved on to develop one theme after another, culminating in the splendid paintings in the Hands series, and the striking large-scale portraits Everyone’s Life is an Epic, which combined brilliant brush and ink technique with sympathetic insight into the character of the subject.
And now—the nudes. The nude has never (except in erotic art) had a place in the Chinese traditional repertoire. So can Leilei’s nudes be called Chinese? Unquestionably. For here is a Chinese artist, using a Chinese medium to express his experience and feeling as a Chinese, and what could be more Chinese than that?
From a tribute by Michael Sullivan (1916 - 2013)
Leading art historian for whom China became a life's work.
Artwork from the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection of Modern Chinese Art can be viewed at the Ashmolean