While Chu's paintings tended toward richer and bolder color after the 1 960s, few display palettes similar to the tightly focused inky blacks, sapphires, and vermilion reds of Composition No. 143 (Lot 1019). These intensely contrasting colors deliver a visual jolt to the viewer, softened only by the large adjoining areas of black, and the opposing vermilion and sapphire hues, through black's mediation, create a rich and varied visual tension. Chu's meticulous care and carefully gauged effects, combined with a bold and vigorous expressiveness, yield a picture space that is harmonious yet filled with drama. Chu's choice of these two principle colors was not without reason: according to "The Life of Chu Teh-Chun," by Zu Wei, the artist experienced a period of unique passion for the color red. In 1963, Galerie 7 in Paris mounted an exhibition with the imaginative theme of "L'oeil de boeuf" ("The Eye of the Ox"), and when he received notice of the invitation to show his work, Chu Teh-Chun's first thought was, "What is the most powerful impression in nature associated with the ox's eye? It must be the poetry of Du Mu and Huo Zong, describing the fiery red lightning and thunder of the gods and spirits with their thunder chariots and flashing lightning, the black wave that rolled the sea up to the heavens, and the clashing tumult like the roaring of tigers and dragonsK." We can easily imagine Chu Teh-Chun drawing inspiration for the magnificent sweep of Composition No. 143 from Du Mu's "Ballad of the Great Rain": "The great black gale came on the eastern shore and swept the seas up into the midst of the heavens..." The artist, alluding to the miraculous events of the poem, sweeps sapphire blue across the upper portion of the canvas, like waves rising to the heavens, while heavy black slashes set out the black gale driving the sea surge onward. "With a deafening noise the thunder chariot sweeps through, the flood dragon leaps and writhes, claws and tail long and powerful." Against a flame-red background, vermilion spots flash like lightning or bursts of magma to show the thunder chariot and the flashing teeth and claws of the "flood dragon," completing Chu's depiction of "the bursting fires of heaven" and "the tumultuous mood of cloud and ocean!"
Abandoning depiction of specific scenes, Chu Teh-Chun transforms concrete forms into abstract images in Composition No. 143 bringing the canvas a surging pulse and rhythm. The artist uses various combinations of ink and their effects to transmit messages with emotional, psychological, cultural, and conceptual meanings, a feature linking him directly with the schools of thought and the painting methods of the Chinese literati painters. In China's Eastern Jin period, a treatise on calligraphy was written entitled Madame Wei's Illustrations of the Brushstrokes, in which the author wrote, "a horizontal stroke should be like a cloud formation in the distance, indistinct, but not without form; a dotted stroke should be like a stone that falls from a mountain peak, crashing and bouncing as if it might shatter." The millennia-old tradition of calligraphic writing involves much more than stylistic changes over the centuries; Chinese characters themselves emerged only through the intense efforts and strict application of generations of calligraphers. They observed the forms of nature and processed what they saw, visually and psychologically, to produce the simple geometric and linear forms of early writing. Behind calligraphy, then, was a philosophical pursuit, a kind of direct interaction with nature and an exploration of its underlying sources. Early in the 20th century, Wassily Kandinsky exerted significant influence in the development of Abstract Expressionism when he published his book Points, Lines, and Planes. But these three basic elements, their structuring and their sense of implied motion, were already an implicit part of Chinese calligraphy as it developed so long ago, and Chu Teh-Chun has said that calligraphy helped him to perfect "the most precise brushwork possible." In Chu's precise abstract vocabulary we see not just a Western artist reaching for spontaneity and spirituality, but at the same time, an entire universe of expressive techniques that has evolved over thousands of years in Chinese art and culture.