The late Chinese-born artist Guo Fengyi suffered from arthritis so debilitating that she had to leave her job at a rubber factory in the country’s Sha’anxi Province at just 45 years old. Forced into early retirement and immobilized by her illness, Guo began drawing and painting at home. She also turned to the ancient technique of qi-gong—a combination of philosophy, martial arts, breathing regulation, and meditation—to help cope with her ailments.
While practicing qi-gong, Guo would enter varying states of consciousness, often experiencing visions that she would then rush to articulate in her art. In the drawing Guo Fengyi arrived at Lugu Lake (2006), long tendrils of orange, green, red, and yellow pen marks twist up and down nearly 14 feet of a paper scroll, barely constrained by the ends of the paper.
The swirling colors are frantic and evoke the Surrealists’ automatic drawings, which they made in heightened states. In other drawings, the faces of dragon-like creatures and unspecified lords point to Guo’s interest in traditional Chinese myths and philosophy. Sometimes venturing into the realm of astrology and medicine, several of Guo’s most intricate drawings are cross-sections of a human brain, with the nervous system mapped out in different colors with corresponding arrows and numbers (the physiological accuracy is beside the point).
Although Guo began to gain international attention in the years before her death, in 2010, the artist is still relatively unknown. A selection of her works is on view now at the Brussels outpost of Gladstone Gallery, which began representing Guo in 2018.
See more of Guo Fengyi’s mesmerizing works below. “Guo Fengyi” is on view at Gladstone Gallery, 12 Rue du Grand Cerf, Brussels through March 9, 2019.
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