ZAO Wou-ki (Chinese-French, 1920 - 2013)
Oil on canvas
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-ki, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1986, black-and-white illustrated, no. 515, p. 348
Pierre Daix, Zao Wou-ki, l’æuve 1935-1993, Ides et Calendes, Berne, 1994, color illustrated, p. 135
Old age and death can never scare me. As long as I can hold the brush andpaint the cloth, nothing will scare me. My only hope is to complete the paintingon hand and this painting is braver and more liberal than the last one. — Zao Wou-ki
Zao Wou-ki was born to a scholarly family and at the early age of 6 he started to learn calligraphy, which greatly widened his vision and granted him a pretty different aesthetic viewpoint different from most painters in the west. With the support and influence of his father and father’s younger brother, a dream to become a painter was gradually bred in the little heart and it was this very artistic dream that sent him away on his travels to Paris seen off by the whole family. Since the 50s, the painting circle in Paris started to see the active figure of Zao Wou-ki and the young artist quickly got a sound footing for himself in the French painting world. The marvelous achievements of Zao Wou-ki have won him numerous honors and respect from the international art circle, which is also the honor and pride of Chinese art.
The works of Zao Wou-ki display a keen flavor of aggressiveness and this very characteristic greeted perfectly well to the renewed tide of adventure in the European painting world in the post-war period; and the compassion rimmed in his art also catered well to the ardent and elegant taste of French art to such an extent that his art was first accepted by the French in feeling and then by the whole western painting community in terms of the logic of art history. The wisdom exhibited in his art is so sound and profound that it has pushed him all the way along in his unremitting efforts for improving and perfecting his unique style in the past decades and promoting continuously the spirit of each time period of his life.
During his attendance of Hangzhou National College of Art, Zao Wou-ki studied under the two prestigious masters in China, Wu Dayu and Pan Tianshou. The latter often got Zhao to copy many ancient works, which was much hated and very often the student attempted to skip classes by any means and sometimes he even desperately jumped out classroom window. His misbehavior of him enraged the teacher so much that he threatened to expel him from school. Luckily Lin Fengmian, the headmaster at the time, managed to retain him at last. Zao Wou-ki, thinking little of the conventional concept of Chinese painting, thought Chinese paintings had already lost its creativity as early as the 16th century and, instead of progressing and improving itself, what it could do was merely copying from the materpieces of the Han and Song dynasties. The achievements of Zao Wou-ki actually are contributed to by the guidance and instruction of Lin Fengmian from whom he learned not concrete painting skills but the spirit of innovation and pursuance of art freedom. In fact he was a gifted painter, as his earlier works betray and in his artistic work he expressed his deep and innermost feelings in such a frank and free way that it broke through the conventional constraints of all those socalled realistic painting skills of academic schools. His work successfully bared the free and honest spirit of his heart.
In the west where abstract painting was the mainstream, the works of Zao Wou-ki also developed from expressionist concrete painting gradually to symbolized image painting and then to expressionist abstract painting. With the establishment of his unique painting style, his artistic realm was also expanding larger and wider. If what the western abstract painting does is the construction of the form on cloth, Zao Wou-ki is getting his feelings and expectations from
Mother Nature and building them into a kind of abstract language, which created a gap from his western counterparts. The work in his peak period presents both a completely abstract form world and a natural world pulsed with the melodies of life. It is a world to bring you fantasies of aesthetic imagination where boundless nature is unfolding the picture of its ever changing images. It is a kind of abstract painting deeply rooted in the oriental tradition and is meanwhile the harmonious spiritual combination of oriental and occidental art.
After his work “Clouds” in 1985, none of Zhao’s works are given the names or titles. Every work simply carries the time of its creation for, to the creator, sketching and depicting becomes completely the expression of his inner feelings and in his works he, like a loosened horse, bravely breaks the rein of rules and conventions and runs at the boundless grassland of art in his own creative and unique way.
Since the 1950s, the work of Zao Wou-ki carries distinctive characteristics at two different time periods : the first period is in early 60s and 70s when most of his work was tuned in dark colors like black and brown and the whole picture displayed a strong sense of movement with every sketch rimmed with power and vitality; the second period is after the middle 70s when the oil painting skills of the painter were getting increasingly mature and at this time the color, instead of the dark tone in the previous period, got lighter and brighter and the whole depiction focused more on space and light. The work during this period, compared to his previous one, contains more natural elements and exhibits a richer flavor of natural sights, lending the whole painting a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere.
The piece “22.3.79” is very representative of Zao Wou-ki in his second period of creation. What meets our eyes is far more than thesense of gradation of near and far space. The picture is also a world of lights and colors where the bright yellow is the major tone with brown and black sinking into the skin of the picture and the strong light shining the holy brilliance through lines of fine texture. The painting “22.3.79” is a best suggestion and expression that Zhao is an expert in blending “space” and “light” and is a master to integrate different colors into a perfect whole.
Modern & Contemporary Art
Ravenel Spring Auction 2022 Taipei
Sunday, June 5, 2022, 2:00pm