The Yangzi River thunders past cliffs of 1,000 feet high; Dwarfing the Moon now tiny in the distant sky.
As water recedes rocks appear where before there was no trace. Has so much time passed that I no longer know this place?
- Excerpt from the Second Ode on the Red Cliff by Su Shi
No. 229 (Lot 6) was completed in 1966 during the period when Chu Teh-Chun was devoting his energy to creating abstract paintings featuring high mountains and deep waters. As if brandishing a sword, he wielded his brush with great force, resulting in the emergence of distinctly formed landscapes. This work is very similar to the scenery of Red Cliff, located in the outskirts of Huang Gang County in Hubei, and described by the Northern Song scholar-poet Su Shi who once visited this site. The sound of flowing water is deafening and the steep cliffs loom 1,000 feet into the sky; the high mountains are precipitous with the moon resembling a small, bright pearl. When the waterline drops, previously submerged rocks emerge. The sun and moon alternate in their courses, and the landscape shifts in so many ways as to no longer be recognizable.
Chu Teh-Chun was born in 1920. His sojourn in Europe enabled him to perceive a microscopic vision derived from both Chinese and Western painting. Traditional Chinese culture had nurtured his solid training in painting, while his Western experience broadened his horizons, enabling him to become a world-renowned master painter. After reaching France in 1955, Chu concentrated on exploring the relationship between light, spatial form, and contours. The visual range of such painting is not limited by the frame; for the application of a diagonal configuration extends viewer vision into infinity. It is similar to the "one river, two banks" arrangement found in Song Dynasty landscape painting, or the composition arrangement seen in the High Renaissance period, which displays a dramatic effect by contrasting light and darkness. The interaction of light, spatial forms and contours, as well as the manner in which they complement one another, combine to make this painting unique and rare among Chu's work from the 1960s. It has enabled oriental painting to become the High Renaissance of traditional landscape painting.
"When painting landscapes, the creation of poetic atmosphere is valued above brush strokes." The dynamic, wild brush strokes of Chu convey a certain characteristic associated with the cursive script of Chinese calligraphy. By emphasizing the broken and cursive lines, as well as the appropriate application of force to create a continual flow of energy, Chu's works reveal a vigorous yet gentle aestheticism of wild and exotic form. An animated rhythm emerges in his marvelously controlled brush strokes which draws viewer attention. The 1960s was the golden era when Chinese and Western arts met. Contemporary Western art focused on the idiom of contours as one of the primary techniques they wished to learn from Oriental culture. The works of Hans Hartung reveal the artist's study and application of contours, and the technique of automatism became his unique way of expression. Carl Buchheister, on the other hand, emphasized poetic and abstract forms through varying shades of ink stains. Today these two masters of Abstract Impressionist painting acknowledge their debt to Oriental art. Inspired by the painting of Nicolas de Stael, Chu gradually developed his own distinctive painting style. By blending Eastern and Western techniques, and breaking free from traditional landscape rules, Chu applied the creative elements found in calligraphy, contours, abstract form, and poetic expression, thereby creating another golden era for Chinese landscape painting. During the 1950s, Chinese master painter Zhang Daqian achieved renowned recognition throughout the Orient for his splash-ink paintings. During this same period, Chu learned how to apply oils in the splash-ink style to create his majestic, extraordinary, and highly spirited landscape canvases.
Chu's friend Wu Guanzhong once commented, "thick strings are noisy like a rainstorm, while thin strings murmur in a whisper"; using the metaphor of stringed instrument to describe the rhythm generated by the intertwining contours of Chu's works. This same rhythm is also found in the works of the Abstract Impressionist artist Jackson Pollock. Liberally dripping or pouring paint onto the canvas as he moved about, Pollock created irregular contours and pale spots. Together, they combined to form a space rich in imagination and musical beat. However, Pollock simply diluted the black paint and dripped it onto the canvas, while Chu applied the staining technique of Chinese landscape painting. By incorporating the philosophy of Eastern art, Chu created a realm of painting where "poetic atmosphere was accorded supremacy over form"; transforming the traditional Chinese landscape painting technique into a modern art idiom.