“Painting navigates deftly between two worlds: that of the visible, and that of thoughts. Ideal painting would bring them together, striving towards total expression”
T’ang Haywen delivered this vision of the artistic practice to Jean-Paul Desroches in 1983 and would pursue all along his life a way to link these two worlds in his artworks. From the guidance of his grand-father who taught him the art of calligraphy, T’ang learned the strong bond between the sign and the meaning. While the calligraphy and the ink practice remained central in his oeuvre, T’ang crosses a bridge when he started painting abstract landscapes. Untitled (Lot 22) is one of the early representation of this type using watercolour and gouache, a new medium for T’ang to explore. The assured brushstrokes reveal the perfect technique he has acquired while the brilliant hues of red and green give a whirling movement to the composition. His signature, usually red like the ancient Chinese seal, is green here and suggest the freed approach he allowed himself to have in Untitled.
When he arrived in Paris in 1948, same year as Zao Wou-Ki, he immersed in the effervescent atmosphere of the city and captured into his palette the forms of the Western art. The swirling reds recall the use of the colour by the impressionists who painted with the light of the colours and not with the contour anymore. The bright colours of Untitled could easily echo Les Coquelicots (The Poppies) (fig. 1) painted by Monet in 1873; the flowers are made abstract in Untitled and shine under the radiant sun as in Monet’s masterpiece. T’ang bend the material under his will, spread or condensed the coloured gouache at speed and finds a way to figure emotion when the impressionists figured light.
Painted in Varenna, Italy in 1967 Untitled arose at an artistic breakthrough for T’ang. Strong devotee of Taoism, he follows its three treasures: compassion, moderation and humility. He sets the oeuvre before him and let a large part to be dictated by the vivid forces in the natural world.
Some of T’ang contemporaries such as Georges Mathieu (fig.2), one of the lead figure of the lyrical abstraction, seek the same shore of surpassing the artist’s subjectivity. “By introducing [...] speed and improvisation on a hitherto unseen scale, I wanted to overturn small-minded Western ideas that had been in place for centuries, and watch as barriers of misunderstanding, indignation, and revolt rose up before me”, he wrote (quoted in Au-delà du Tachisme, Paris, 1963, p. 97).
Called by André Malraux ‘the Western calligrapher’, Georges Mathieu shares with T’ang Haywen this intimacy with a line served by strong stokes and striking colours which create dramatic compositions on the edge between figuration and abstraction. T’ang was known to be a character indifferent to recognition and he followed his own path creating artworks like Untitled which reveal “the source of pure energy” as he used to qualify it.