Mars - 3 Avril 2003
ZAO Wou-ki (Chinese-French, 1920 - 2013)
Oil on canvas
97 x 195 cm
Connaissance des Arts (hors-série, Zao Wou-ki), Paris, 2003, color illustrated, pp. 28-29
the life-force of form, the unfolding and merging of color.” – Zao Wou-ki
Mars - 3 Avril 2003 serves as an accumulation of sentiments consolidated throughout Zao Wou-ki’s artistic development from his early poetic
figurative work to his subsequent mastery of meditative abstract compositions. In the 1950s, Zao Wou-ki’s adoption of oil painting parallels with his believe that beyond the reproductions of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso, there were possibilities before him that a strict codified art of traditional Chinese painting could not offer. The dreamlike imagery of the present lot transpires a poetic transcription of reality. It is indeed this well-savored cultural charm, coupled with a synthesis of Western elements that create an artistic language and methodology that is distinctively Zao’s and allow many to resonate with his creations.
ABSTRACTION AND AN ETHEREAL PERSPECTIVE
In 1954 Zao Wou-ki launched himself into the world of abstract painting, deviating from the former skeletal silhouettes in his early years.
Furthermore, upon his return to Paris from New York at the end of 1959, he abandoned all borrowings from natural forms and began tracing spontaneous brushstrokes on his canvases. Moreover, his formats became considerably larger and titles of his works became mere dates acknowledging the day when the painting is completed. “During this period my painting became illegible. I was moving towards imaginary.” The spontaneity of abstract art signals a new liberty that illuminates the spirit of Zao’s work and its evolution. The impromptu rendering of a beautiful color palette of the present lot contain a sensuous combination of nostagic purple, black, magenta and a pale airy beige of a sumptuous quality, executed with a fluidity that is rendered with brushstrokes amassed in the middle in a light and airy vagabondage, where the artist introduces us to a space with voids and floating forms that is more allusive than realistic. Zao Wou-ki is able to bring out deftly the beautifully executed lines or a subtle delicate stroke built upon a foundation of several basic colors. The artist once referenced the memorable performance of Deserts at the theater des Champs-Elysees. “As from that moment, I began to give rhythm to light, following other pulsations.” Coincidentally, the purplish mist emanating from the dark masses dances across the canvas harmoniously like a well-choreographed music, the movement of each individual note responds to another note forming a mutually constructed tonality that creates endless permutations and possibilities infused with melody, rhythm and harmony. Simultaneously, the softer palette reflects a more relaxed composition that is also indicative of the artist’s more settled life in France.
REFINED NATURE OF CHINESE AESTHETICS
Zao Wou-ki pursued audaciously and explored new compositions, rhythms, and ways of expressing himself through synthesizing qualities from both the Eastern
and Western traditions. Undoubtedly, it was his Chinese heritage that led him to reconcile oil painting with the influence of traditional ink painting. He had experimented with colours by mixing his paint with large quantities of turpentine in attempts to make it flow like Chinese ink on the canvas. More specifically, Zao admired the serenity of Cimabue’s Maesta and contemplated on how the golden halos created a perspective that is reminiscent of ancient Chinese landscapes where planes were often separated by curtains of mist. The artist build on these conceptions and continued his explorations on the fluidity of ink and the flexibility of the wrist movement through the utilization of a large, flat brush that permitted the application of a thicker, more fluid coat of paint all come together in the end as a fruitful whole, as epitomizes by the present lot Mars - 3 Avril 2003. It is apparent that the lines flow with the artist’s thoughts, from both sides of the canvas spun brushstrokes that cut horizontally in the middle of the painting, cohesively interpenetrating but without ever blending. The lines are broken yet continuing as it expresses the impulsive dynamics and leads the audience into the dedicate changes in colors in the form of an iridescent mist that is hardly visible yet momentarily perceptible. This quality is akin to the rhythm and expressiveness the free brush xieyi style of the Ming artists. The composition revolves between real colors and abstract shapes that is reminiscence of an ethereal sense of Zen and surrealism, which owes its origins to Zao’s adaptation of Shitao’s theories on painting that is ever so endearing to the heart of traditional Chinese ink painting, which posits “One must work with ease of movement, the hand held high, and the brush-stroke will be capable of brusque metamorphoses. When the wrist is guided by the soul, rivers and mountains surrender their souls.”
Moreover, Zao once said, “Chinese painting works best with space and light” for one thing, his concern with space and the effects of light and shade is fully
reflected in the present lot, where the dark heavy elements in the center of the canvas interfere, combine, vanish and spread out before the lines weave into a light gossamer background on which the composition rest, intuitively restoring the principle of tiering in Chinese landscape painting, in which the mass of mountains float in the composition in order to evoke distance. Areas of void retains a pertinent role in the composition, the importance of which had been instilled in Zao since a very young age, when his father tried to show him the beauty in Chinese works of art that were within their reach at the time. More specifically, as in the words of Tao Te King in his reference to the fundamental notion of Chinese thought, that of emptiness. “Clay is modeled to make vessels, but their use depends upon the empty space inside.” In this regard, Zao Wou-ki introduced the essential role of caesura and void visible in the present lot in the form of an ethereal shade of soft beige that is soft, light and diluted, free from confining edges and follows the lyrical flow of the rolling mists. The vague nuances create a space without dimensions or limits by employing the composition of traditional Chinese landscape painting, which predicates upon the balancing of voids and solids to suggest infinite space and allows the imagination of the spectator to manifest. This meticulously executed empty space is further reminiscent of a manner of composition that is a derivative of the stylistic charm of the Song Dynasty, a means through which a poetic transcription of reality is transpired.
Indeed, Mars - 3 Avril 2003 serves as an accumulation of sentiments consolidated throughout Zao Wou-ki’s artistic development, an artist who has had an
endless flow of solo exhibitions punctuated with numerous retrospectives. Zao Wou-ki has acted as a bridge between two cultures, as a link that authenticates both the survival of a tradition that is fresh, powerful and unforced. In his oil paintings, he masterfully employs traditional Chinese brush painting techniques to diffuse the surfaces with colors, yet at the same time in his compositional structure, colour treatment and spatial arrangement clearly exhibit the integration of Western painting aesthetics. In seeking to achieve greater levels of contrast and transparency, Zao emphasizes both depth and expansiveness, introducing layers of complexity into a two dimensional canvas that leads to an ultimate sense of breakthrough thus creating his own distinctive style, a testimony of an cultural exchange between the East and the West.
Modern & Contemporary Asian Art
Ravenel Autumn Auction 2019 Taipei
Sunday, December 1, 2019, 12:00am