"In nature I hear the voice of the universe, the voice of humanity, and the voices of East and West. In it I find a wellspring of inspiration that gives poetic meaning and feeling to my work. The act of creation is pure spontaneity; it is acting naturally without deliberate thought. As in traditional Daoist teaching, creation is "the pouring out of the romantic feeling in your heart."
Writer and critic Francois Cheng believed that Chu Teh-Chun's paintings had three special features: "The power to arouse us, a rhythmic feel, and an innovative feel." The innovative quality corresponds to Chu's fusion of Eastern and Western art, while the rousing and rhythmic qualities of his work hark back to the great landscape paintings and poetry of the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279), with their rich inner implications. So while Chu Teh-Chun's abstract works certainly draw inspiration from Abstract Expressionism of the West, they reach beyond mere formal beauty by exuding a poetic sensibility that is deeply rooted in the Chinese view that painting and poetry derive from a single source. What we sense in both painting and poetry is the humanistic thought central to traditional Chinese culture. "Poetry expresses the inner ideal," the Chinese have said, and likewise with regards to music, "When our feelings move us from within, they are manifested in the sounds." As for painting, it has been said that "with nature as your teacher, let your mind grasp the inner essence." These ideas form the basis of Chinese aesthetics.
The unique aesthetics of the arts of the East grow from the particular attention to the development and the appreciation of a work's fundamental conception. Painting and poetry both serve as symbolic vehicles that personify "the search for good within," and the relationship between them was further established in the poetry of Su Dong-po, who said, "the criteria for poetry and painting are the same: like a work of nature, yet original." These concepts remain alive in the work of Chu Teh-Chun. Chu said, "I love Chinese poetryK.It has become part of my paintings. It's no coincidence that Western critics think of my painting as poetic abstraction." In this we can see that the free creative spirit of the Eastern artist, in which the complementary union of poetry and painting expresses a deeply felt concern for and a reflective understanding of nature and human life.
In 1985, as Chu Teh-Chun was returning by rail from Switzerland to France, he was struck by the view of a snowstorm in the Swiss Alps from his carriage window. The experience left him sleepless with excitement, and later, around 1990, Chu painted an exceptional series of snow scenes. Vertige Neigeux (Lot 1020), produced between 1990 and 1999, similarly depicts the imagery of falling snow, yet stands as one of Chu's most representative works. Paintings on this scale by Chu Teh-Chun are rare, and it is a work in which the artist invested ten years of his life working to perfection. He produced no further snow scenes after the year 1991, a fact which further hints at the value of this exceptional Vertige Neigeux.
The title Vertige Neigeux in Chinese is an allusion to the final stanza of a poem from the "Minor Songs" in the ancient Chinese Book of Odes, "Picking the Flowering Fern," which reads, "falling snowflakes fly around us." Perhaps the poem parallels certain aspects of the first half of Chu's life. "Picking the Flowering Fern" is a military ode whose first three stanzas describe the life of soldiers on extended frontier garrison duty and their longing home for home during the military campaign. Chu Teh-Chun experienced the chaos of war firsthand between the ages of 17 and 25, a period which brought the death of his father, and the destruction of all his work before the age of 25. Chu has said that "the turmoil of war and internal conflict in China from 1935 to 1949 made my entire artistic life during that period a total blank." The war also drove him to Taiwan, and the period of time prior to his arrival in France at the age of 35 was one of turmoil and unrest. In the poem's fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem, thoughts of home sear the hearts of the common soldiers, but are turned into patriotic fervor and heroic thoughts of death in battle when they consider the possible calamity to their people and nation. The soldiers reflect, "We dare not remain inactive, for in this month we hope to see three victories,"; similarly, Chu the artist strove with all his natural talents, struggling in a land far from his home for 50 years. And he won success: he was honored with the position of Member of the Institute of France, and the union of East and West he achieved in his art brought him international recognition.
Long ago, when we started,
The willows spread their shade.
Now that we turn back
Falling snowflakes fly around us.
The march before us is long,
And we know much hunger and thirst,
Our hearts are stricken with sorrow,
A sorrow that no one truly understands.
The final stanza of "Picking the Flowering Fern," from the The Book of Odes, Minor Songs
Vision of Nostalgia
Fang Yurun of the Qing dynasty wrote in The Origin of the Book of Odes that "The excellence of this poem lies in its final stanza. It portrays real feelings and a real scene, the human suffering of a specific time, with a depth that is hard to describe." The poet's contrast between past and present, the journey outward and the return, and the warmth and the coldness, emphasizes the changing seasons and the passage of time, while also hinting at life's transience and the disquiet of the heart. In 1994, Chu Teh-Chun returned to his hometown in Anhui's Xiao County for the first time in 57 years to pay his respects at the graves of his parents, and described his experience of the return home in an interview: "My home had changed. Everything was completely different than I remembered. Inevitably, I miss that China, I miss my home." The falling snow in Vertige Neigeux may in part reflect the sentiment in a line from a Tang dynasty poem, "I left home a young man, but return home aged." Yet the artist looks past the transience and sadness of "Picking the Flowering Fern." Through the deep and magnificent snowy landscape, the background glows with bright, warm cream hues and halos of pale, tender greens and yellows, which are perhaps more suggestive of the "willows" described in the poem and their connection with Chu's memories of home. The canvas is also dotted with varied spots of brighter color, further hinting at the return of a more colorful spring across the land once the deep of winter has passed.
Fittingly, Chu's good friend Wu Guanzhong, in Recollections of the Snowstorm-the Story of Myself and Chu Teh-Chun, recalled their camaraderie during the historical upheavals they both experienced: "Suffering the purgatory of our domestic situation at the time, I often thought of Chu Teh-Chun, and imagined the torments of another kind he must be undergoing in his own purgatory. But today when we meet, we don't speak of it. We just leave out the crying and the bitterness that is buried for both of us deeply beneath out art." Perhaps as Wu Guanzhong suggests, the past that was once etched deeply in their hearts now resides within the layered oils of their paintings, and has been sublimated in the form of artistic creation. The colors of Vertige Neigeux differ from Chu's earlier snow scenes in that he no longer uses exclusively cooler palettes and shadings of grey to portray "the shifting patterns of mist on white ground and the layers that emerge." The work instead leads toward his inner explorations of the 1990s, which the artist described as "roaming among my memories." The artist transforms the wealth of his accumulated experience over the decade into the color, light, and shadow of this snow scene, resulting in the crystallization of much of the artist's thoughts and feelings in the form of a large-scale diptych.
"The Essence of Drawing is The Line Exploring Space"
- Andy Goldsworthy
In the West, traditional landscape painting underwent a real transformation around 1840 through the works of J.M.W. Turner (1175-1857). In works such as Snow Storm-Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, Turner's uninhibited brushwork and subjective colors proclaim the tremendous energy and feeling of nature, while his deconstruction of natural forms opened way for the development of Impressionism and later schools of paintings. Chu's abstract depiction of a snowstorm in Vertige Neigeux clearly inherits the Chinese landscape painting tradition, in which, as Chu describes it, "The Chinese have never said they were doing abstract work. This is not to say they have no abstract paintings. Throughout time what they depicted was not the natural landscape as the eye actually sees it. But because we Chinese are used to this style, we don't think of it as abstract." By contrast with Turner, whose swirling compositions express the hidden power within nature and the smallness of humanity within its vast reach, Chu Teh-Chun uses the elements of points, lines, and planes to give the details of the physical world a spiritual dimension, making the scene on the canvas a symbolic one. Broad, sweeping strokes suggest rolling mists and flowing waters, while washes of pale green suggest the undefined spaces in traditional Chinese landscapes that allow the viewer to roam within a misty vastness. The work represents the joining of the artist's spiritual vision with the elements of the natural world, and provides a revelation of the philosophy of Chuangtze and his view of a universe in which mankind exists in harmony with nature.
The poets of China have always sought to place themselves within nature, ingeniously finding the counterparts of their experiences and ideals within the external environment. In addition to being a work in which the artist forged the ideals of poetry and painting into a unified whole, Vertige Neigeux mirrors both the artistic career and the personal history of the artist. Chu projects into it all his awareness of life and its ordeals and his feelings for his home, creating a work that extends the tradition of Chinese humanism within the abstract painting genre.