(ZHAO WUJI, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-ki ZAO' in Chinese and Pinyin (lower right); signed 'ZAO Wou-Ki' in Pinyin; dated '2.11.59' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130 x 95 cm. (51 1/8 x 37 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1959
Private Collection, New York, USA
Doyle New York, 22 May 2007, Lot 1173
Private Collection, New York, USA
Private Collection, Europe
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Fran?oise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated, plate 77, p. 127).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated, plate 77, p. 127).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris France and Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1986 (illustrated, plate 77, p. 127).
Daniel Abadie and Marine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Ars Mundi, 1988 (illustrated, plate 19).
Daniel Abadie and Marine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1989 (illustrated, plate 19).
Daniel Abadie and Marine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Cultural Edition Co. Ltd., Taipei, Taiwan 1993 (illustrated, plate 19).

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Lot Essay

14.11.63 Calligraphic Movement, Light, and Shadow

In 14.11.63, Zao's earlier depictions of real scenes and his uniquely personal symbology have undergone simplification into a more direct style, one where line attains the utmost expressiveness. Zao once noted, "I've discovered that I don't have to paint figures or motifs in space as I used to, or to make clear divisions between colors. And I have discovered the notion that spatial depth can be created by combining different hues in certain ways." At this point the artist had crossed a creative divide where he left behind questions of subject and technique, and could let his brushwork and lines independently express his moods and feelings with their own true freedom. His management of color and spatial depth on the canvas works directly on the viewer's basic visual responses, and by extension, their emotional responses.

In the West art is often categorized by whether it is primarily spatial or temporal in nature, but calligraphy displays elements of both. The intriguing structures of Chinese characters, and the rhythmic movements of the brush that form them, create a unique and dynamic concept of "power." The power resides in both the calligraphy itself and the implied motions of the brush. Together they also manifest a kind of space, as well as the temporally-based beauty of the brushstrokes that follow one another on the canvas. As a six-year-old, Zao recited poetry and practiced calligraphy under the tutelage of his grandfather, who told him that calligraphy was only art if it communicated feeling. For that reason, 14.11.63 should not be considered purely a product of spontaneous movement, unlike many paintings associated with Western abstract expressionism. The dynamism of Zao's lines are based on the calligraphy skills formed through rigorous practice in his youth, and along with those, there is the familiar grasp of Western painting media he developed over a period of 20 years, which allowed him to convey feelings through the brush unimpeded, whether he was applying the pigments in thin diluted layers or in thick, heavy coats. The weight of the brush at the moment of contact, its speed, and the pauses or flourishes in its motion, along with the direction and speed of the lines themselves, create the dynamic of the picture space, while subtle shifts between heaviness and flowing motion also produce an evolving sense of time and space in the painting. Clearly, Zao's intent in 14.11.63 is not to depict a static scene or subject, but to present an ongoing event. Interwoven lines produce primary and secondary lines of force and motion, sometimes in parallel and sometimes in opposition or conflict, with a powerful tension that spreads through the painting as a whole, from the dense layering of converging lines in the center to the washes of color at the periphery. Like a story with an introduction, plot twists, and a final resolution, 14.11.63 tellingly reflects the personal experience and emotional restlessness of the artist during this period.

In 1963, when renovation of Zao Wou-ki's new studio had been completed, its stable and uniform lighting (it admitted light only from the north) afforded him better control of subtle shadings of color. In 14.11.63, he wields his expressive color vocabulary with extreme skill. Large areas of brilliant yellow with flashes of white imply the presence of a light source, while light/dark contrasts and a flurry of lines lead the viewer's eye inward and outward along broad arcs. The tension in the lines that mass toward the center brings a sense of conflict and create a kind of dramatic, almost spot-lit effect. By producing a variety of shadow effects, Zao also builds a strong sense of visual depth into the painting. Even without depicting specific, recognizable forms or outlines for visual reference, the artist uses subtle gradations in color and the expressive effects of light's penetration and reflection, highlighting the clarity of some details and the vagueness of others, and throwing into relief a kind of space that seems to hover in front of us, somewhere between illusion and reality.

In his autobiography, Zao Wou-ki: A Self-Portrait, Zao recalls his work in the early '60s:

From that time on I was able to really let go and simply paint as I felt, because issues of technique were behind me, and I painted according to my mood. Larger canvases meant I had to wrestle with space-not just to fill it up, but to really inject it with life, and to project myself into it completely. I wanted to express the feeling of movement: movement that turns back and lingers, or movement with the power of wind and lightning. I wanted to use the contrasts and vibrations within a single color to bring movement to the canvas, and to find a central point from which light radiates. I laid the paint on in large strokes, sometimes using the palette knife to press the pigments into the canvas, to get them to penetrate more deeply into space. I felt completely at home with myself amid all those colors and those layers upon layers of brushstrokes K

There could hardly be a more apt description of 14.11.63! Zao Wou-ki inherited the special sense of line that is part of the Chinese artistic tradition, and while the spontaneous outpouring of feeling in abstract expressionism can be seen in the natural power and sense of speed in his oils, they also implicitly contain a sense of movement like the Chinese cursive style of calligraphy. In terms of color, Zao avails himself of the Western tradition's contrasts of light and shadow to express space. In this work Zao Wou-ki melds East and West to forge his own unique creative vocabulary, and brings traditional styles together with modern ideas and formal elements.

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