“The concept of Yin and Yang refers to darkness and brightness, which are essentially manifestations of light. I want to showcase this light, and what I paint is the sky, earth and mankind all in one. Zhuangzi stated, “Heaven, Earth, and I were produced together, and all things and I are one.” In this aspect, Chinese philosophy and Western philosophy are entirely different.” – Chu Teh-Chun
The concept of the “abstract” has never been explicitly defined in classical Chinese art, though modern scholars have pointed to evidence of the abstract mindset in paintings, calligraphy and literature created many centuries in the past. According to Zhuangzi, there was once an artisan so skilled that “the operation of his fingers on the forms of things was like the formation of them in nature, and required no application of his mind.” This praise highlights the highest possible achievement that an artist can aspire towards: wherein mind and matter become one, and external logic is not needed in order to achieve the desired aesthetic effect. Chu Teh-Chun’s abstract paintings achieve this goal, embodying a self-contained vision that is wholly organic and subtly combines aspects of both Eastern and Western styles of abstraction, identifying the common ground that allow for the organic fusion of two very different aesthetic styles.
Chu Teh-chun’s sensitivity towards colour and line is reflected in all the works he produced throughout his career. After 1970, Chu began to focus on the depiction of light within his work, looking to the works of Rembrandt and deriving inspiration from the Dutch artist’s use of colour and dramatic compositions. Le 15.5.1976 is grounded in shades of rich velvety black, tinted with shades of blue and green and burnt umber. On the surface, bold strokes of scarlet, saffron, white and teal preside, in some places boldly applied and in other places dissolving into a haze of darkness. The influence of Rembrandt’s famous use of light can also be seen in Chu’s use of colour. The Dutch artist was a master at the art of manipulating light and shadow in order to create areas of intense and dramatic contrast that often heighten the tension of the scenes he depicted. In the only surviving nautical work he created, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, a heavenly spotlight seems to shine down upon the figures struggling on the dark, heaving sea, emphasizing the vulnerability of the human passengers in contrast to the light of heavenly will. Stripped of figurative elements, Chu Teh-Chun’s work instead emphasizes the pure relationship between light, colour, and shade, using the careful delineation of space as a means of allowing the light within the piece to emerge. In doing so, the work encompasses not only light but also Yin and Yang, opposing energies that make up all the energy within the universe. This contrast and juxtaposition reflects fundamental Taoist ideologies, expressing these ideas in a visual form.
Despite the heavy influence of Western art evident in much of Chu’s work, it is still easy to pick out the influence of classical Chinese painting on the overall composition of the piece. In Le15.5.1976, the dabs of pure white and use of brighter colours draws the viewer’s eye directly towards the centre of the canvas, into the “eye” of the work. Each brushstroke is perfectly balanced within the overall composition, a quality of Chu’s work that allows for the convergence of Chinese aesthetic with Western mediums and techniques. It is this seamless fusion of two artistic traditions that makes Chu Teh-Chun one of the most respected Chinese painters in the modern canon, and a true pioneer within the abstract realm, as his works express both a universal vitality and a deeply individual vision of our world.