If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Look Toward the Heavens: The Art of He Qi

Life is too short.
Art is long.
Life is also too hard and suffering for me,
but still I would like to share my gladness
with people around the world.
We are living in a time where there is much violence.
There is little peace.
We need to listen to the voice of heaven.---He Qi

His paintings look like stainglass windows. I first noticed He Qi’s paintings on a number of books I bought on postcolonial readings of the Bible. I was drawn to the brilliant colors and the non-Western depictions of biblical scenes. Recently I purchased a book of his paintings entitled Look Toward the Heavens.

He Qi’s (pronounced huh-cheee) art is bright, colorful, energetic, biblical, and inspiring. His paintings are a mixture of Picasso’s cubism, Marc Chagall’s playfulness with images, and Van Gogh’s brilliant colors with an Asian twist. An inner experience one feels from observing his work is one of peace.

He Qi’s first painting was of Chairman Mao. During the Cultural Revolution he was sent into the fields to perform hard physical labor. After winning a painting competition he was relieved of field work. He was mentored by Nu Sibai, an artist and educator in China. His teacher had him painting Renaissance works in the evening, while he painted Chairman Mao during the day. In the later years of the Cultural Revolution He went to Tibet and worked restoring temple walls that had been destroyed.

In 1993 He wrote his dissertation from Nanjing Art Institute while he was studying medieval art at Hamburg Art Institute in Germany. He was the first person from mainland China after the Cultural Revolution to receive a Ph.D in religious art. Asked why he paints only Bible scenes He Qi says, “There are two ways one may become a Christian in China. One is through parents and grandparents and their teaching. The other is a journey to find peace and truth. I found both in the Gospel message.”

He Qi’s paintings communicate the peace and truth of God. One example is his painting Peace Be Still (above) a depiction of Christ stilling the storm. The turbulent, serpentine waters contrast with the peaceful, horizontal lines running through Jesus and the rowing disciples that provide stability amid the storm. Above Christ’s head is the dove of peace with extended olive branch. Christ’s command "Peace, Be Still" is the voice from heaven to which we need to listen in a world of churning violence.

He Qi has found the peace and truth of the gospel he paints so brilliantly and exhibits in his life.

He Qi was professor at NanjingUnion Theological Seminary. Currently he is artist-in-residence at Yale and is working on the He Qi World Bible.

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