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    Sale 2706

    Chinese 20th Century Art (Day Sale)

    25 May 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 937


    Price Realised  


    (ZHAO WUJI, b. 1920)
    signed 'Wou-Ki Zao' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right); signed, inscribed and dated 'ZAO WOU-KI 46 x 50 18.3.67' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    46 x 50 cm.(18 x 9 1/2 in.)
    Painted in 1967

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    To Zao Wouki, 1960 is a year of turbulence and creativity, in both life and work. It was the year his wife suffered from old-timers disease, and the hardships of life had urged him to vent all his energy and repressed emotions on his art. His passion for creation was unprecedented, and then seemed to have exhausted after that year. (Lot 938), a piece created in 1960, is a powerful register of his life and emotional experience in that disturbing period of his life. The painting seems to depict the entanglement of light and darkness in the universe. The paint in the middle section is especially strong, thick, dense and intense. Textural brushstrokes rubbed with a dry brush to over-paint layer by layer to create lines and symbols similar to ancient Chinese lithographs. The interlocking paint and lines are seen broken, merged, and combined into a stroke-by-stroke inscription of Zao's unremitting swing between exhilaration and serenity.

    Jean Leymarie commented on Zao's work, 'The sixties are the heyday of Zao Wouki's painting. His creative energy seemed to be stronger than ever in those years. Apart from the few paintings with greyish pink tones, as bright and pure as Heaven, the rest are rife with his emotional swings and shocksKZao's work usually mirrors his innermost feelings. In 1960, it became a shelter for his soul to take refugee, or even at times, a battlefield where he struggled with his pains and agonies.'

    The theme of 09-02-60 is a continuation of Abstract Naturalism, which not only emphasizes on making formal duplication, or simulation, but also variation of the natural world, in a representation of space, dynamics, vitality, and the rhythmic flow of energy throughout the painting's surface. In this youth, while Zao was a Fine Arts student in Hangzhou, he was often found loitering around the West Lake, observing the natural world. He remarked, 'I'm observing the space, how it stretches out and twists and turns. What have I been kept thinking is, how to paint the wind? How to express the void? And to show how bright and pure light is?' Seeing the 'boundless blue', 'brilliance', 'purity', 'timeless eternity' in the natural world, with free-spirited imagination, poetic rhetoric for art appreciation, and the philosophical ways of thinking on the broader territory of history and time, are the bits and pieces in the mosaic of tradition Chinese culture, which shapes the philosophical experience and aesthetic conception of the Chinese people. The greyish white in the centre of the painting is analogous to the smoke and cloud depicted in Mi Fei's landscape. In his ink painting, the subtle variation of the white tone channels spectators into the state of spiritual meditation conceptualized in Eastern art. Lines recalling ancient lithographs and those found on bronze relief, stretch across the painting's surface from the centre, bearing resemblance in formal continuity with the contour of mountains.

    From the 60's to 70's, the abstract paintings of Zao are still characterized by the use of predominant colours, including black, brown and greyish white, as the base tones. Among all his works created in this period of time, the Untitled (Lot 937) emerged in 1967 is one of its kind, both in the use of colour and composition design. Sapphire blue is a colour seldom chosen by traditional painters, owing to its powerful, deep, and highly volatile quality, thus making over-paint difficult. But the large patches of colours in the centre of the painting's surface, with such continuity in brushwork as if the sky and earth has merged into one. It can be observed that Zao has the complete composition in his mind before a colourful world takes shape on the paper, and he is skilful enough to master the use of intense, bright colours at his disposal. The enormous strand of blue, in closer scrutiny, does not have blue as its only element, but also hints of indigo green and inky black. The indigo fragment in the centre, with such eye-catching brilliance and sparkling glow, comparable to a piece of blue satin clothe flickering in sunlight, or the mysterious world hidden beneath the vast ocean under the sun, are the focal point of the painting. Zao demonstrates his flexible treatment of primary colours with variable combination and tonal gradient to create depth in space. The centre of the painting's surface, also the centre of spectators' attention, is in particular, charged with energy and dynamics. The composition of blue and white in Untitled is unique among Zao's works. The blue and white tones at the top and bottom of the painting represent the abstract conceptions of 'ethereality', 'essence', 'purity', and 'void'. The parallel arrangement of blue and white allows the sapphire blue to stand out in the middle with indigo hints. White is the colour of relative lightness, while blue of profound depth. The complementary combination of blue and white contributes to the perceived overlapping of the foreground and the background, adding a subtle layering effect to the painting.


    Gift of the artist himself to the present owner in 1969.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that the correct dimension of Lot 937 is of 46 x 50 cm. (18 x 19 ? in.). This work is signed, inscribed and dated on the reverse, accompanied with the below provenance and literature record:
    Gift of the artist himself to the present owner in 1969.
    San Francisco, USA, San Francisco Museum of Art, Paintings by Zao Wou-ki, 8 May-16 June, 1968


    Frank Perls Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki, Beverly Hills, USA, 1968 (illustrated, plate 9).


    Frank Perls Gallery, Beverly Hills, USA, Zao Wou-Ki, 1968.