(ZHU DEQUN, Chinese, B. 1920)
No. 282
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '68.' (lower right); signed 'CHU, TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; signed in Chinese; dated '1968' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
96.5 x 129.5 cm. (38 x 51 in.)
Painted in 1968
Collection of the artist
Private Collection, New York, USA
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

Having transubstantiated, since 1956, from the representational to abstraction, the art of Chu Teh-chun experienced yet again a stylistic shift in the late 1960s, when the artist directed his heed from constructing and compounding abstract languages with points, lines and planes to a sophistication of aesthetic expression with a defter maneuver of coloring and composition. What had in former times inspired him, like the style of cubic dissection of the School of Paris and the uniquely Chinese composition of Fan Kuan's landscapes, have submerged and become less visually apparent in his art. No.280 (Lot 1121) and No.282 (Lot 1120), both painted in 1968, visualize a dynamic vigor in a void-Chu's brushstrokes flowing around the canvas, carpeting it with currents of paints as lively as streaming rivers and scudding clouds; lines rolling out wildly, leaping onto the surface in tandem with indistinct color blocks and dotted pigments. In No.282 we see a warmth-ridden pasture in yellow, which seems almost like a hidden utopia. With his poetic brushwork, Chu renders the picture a mysterious if not amorphously idyll, as his paints create a quality of haziness that resembles the dispersing ink-wash. In No.280 is lain a dark, unfathomable vacuum, in which the dim lights of the universe seem seeping out, disturbing the absolute stillness of such enigmatic darkness. The technique here reminds us of Rembrandt's signature treatment of light source in his painting. Through a dramatic effect of the chiaroscuro balance, it conjures a breathtaking, resonating ambience.
In 1976, Chu Teh-chun took up again the ink-wash tradition and reappraised the aesthetics of traditional calligraphy and paintings. In le 6 Oct 1978 (Lot 1122), a rare, square work by Chu, the swift and stormy brushwork, akin to the "automatic writing" of calligraphic cursive scripts, produces a surge of strength. The instantaneous and gliding lines linger over the background spread in green and grayish white, evoking the eerie atmosphere of a deep valley, or a distant mountain, wreathed in mist and smog. From this Chu traces the origin of such Eastern imageries, leading and composing the canvas by lines and inks. In 1984 he created Le coeur du silence, No. 3 (Lot 1123) in the same tone, but further tossed in the concept of "empty space", a technique characterized in Chinese traditional painting. A wide sweep of nearly blank space covers the work and extends even to the edge of the canvas, calling to mind the patches of swirling fog arising at dawn, or a cloudy arena so boundless that one loses his sense of distance inside. It is, moreover, tinted with dots and lines in jade green, light yellow and reddish-brown, which move agilely within the seeming emptiness. In the 1985 Abstraction neige II (Lot 1124), undulating lines stretch themselves from the top to the bottom, scramble and twine around the canvas like vines; the thickly inked black color blocks, on the other hand, stand loftily on the sides and the central foreground like mountains and mounds, swamping the work with the vibrancy of traditional Chinese landscapes. Blanketed by the enormous white, all these abstract imageries seem at once graceful and taciturn, resting quietly amidst the powdery, fluttering snows. The faintly green tone evokes a snow scape in the woods, which, although desolate and frosty, is embellished with scatters of cyan, red and yellow that hint at the survival of lives against the bleak and lonely field. Dots of white are sprinkled among them, enlivening the variegated grayish black tone and hence enrich the mood peculiar to ink-wash.
In the late 1980s to 1990s, Chu admitted more freedom in composition and coloring. His works, therefore, come to be more liberal in style as he composes at will and their tones are more diversified as he colors with greater facility. The paintings are often varicolored, coated with dots and blocks of vibrant pigments like musical notes dancing here and there. Un apercu (Lot 1125) and Souvenir du pass? (Lot 1126), painted respectively in 1989 and 1990, are the epitomes of such style. Resonate with the ambience and nimble strokes of Chinese calligraphy, the two vertically composed pieces pour out the immeasurable strength of Chinese brushwork, and the irregular patches and streaks of colors seem more striking and magnificent. The liberty in brushing and coloring conveys with precision the impression of "interweaving lights."
Starting out from imageries he finds in nature, Chu Teh-chun incorporates the essence of Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy painting with the poetic, non-figurative art form as Western painting. In his own untamed and unbridled manner he conceives an intricate cosmos of abstraction, spawning, with a philosophical mind and a sublime spirit, a harmony between man and nature, between the internal self and the external world. The art of Chu is thus an emblem of all these contemplations and of the artist's impactful sentiment and verve emerged out of his enduring artistic pursuit.

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