(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
Untitled No. 221
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '65' (lower right); signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated and titled '1965 no. 221' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
65 x 92 cm. (25 1/2 x 36 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1965
Acquired from the artist by the present owner in the 1970s

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

The primary color palette of traditional Chinese ink-wash paintings was centered on black; as Tang Dynasty painter and poet Wang Wei said, pointing out ink's central importance in the Chinese system of aesthetics, "In the Tao of painting, ink-wash surpasses all; it begins from the essence of nature and completes the work of creation." Many generations of painters have drawn upon the combination and structuring of ink and color for their most basic elements and motifs, which allowed them to convey the strongest impressions with the smallest means in terms of color.

Chu's lyrical abstraction bridges dialogues to the Western abstract expressionism, while at the same time embraces the spiritual essence from the Eastern landscape painting. Untitled No. 221 (Lot 2102) is one of the earlier works created in 1965. Chu limited himself to reductively using black and very little brown colours as the key palette in this painting, which is very rare, as Chu is prominent for expansive use of celebratory colours in his work. The artist's conscious choice of reductive colours alludes to his perpetual affections towards Chinese ink-wash painting. Rooted deeply in his cultural heritage, however, the painting also indicates Chu's deft appropriation of the perspective and composition of Western classical landscape paintings (Fig. 1), infused with the sentiment from Chinese traditional painting. In Untitled No. 221, the top and bottom are deliberately left blank, lending the liubai technique, while Chu transforms the oil paints to a similar colour texture as ink-wash's six graded colours-"black, white, dark, light, dry, wet." Through elaborate layering of lines and renders, the painting is given infinite depths, and Chu's cursive gestures remind us of Song calligrapher, Mi Fu (Fig. 2). Oil pigments, under Chu Teh-Chun's brush, immediately took on a new character, losing their thick viscosity and gaining a new fluidity, along with the weightiness of charcoal black ink applied with a dry brush. Here, the artist uses an ink-wash type of effect with a single oil pigment to create the "six colors" of black, white, thick, thin, dry, and wet, and in his seemingly bold sweeps of the brush he utilizes the simplicity of deep inky color with great precision. The result is a visual organization that creates rich, fine layering and a clear distinction between foreground, middle distance, and background, building a sense of space and depth in the picture space. This sense of limitless space in a canvas of smaller dimensions may be what Sung writer Fan Zhongyan meant when he said, in his essay "On Yueyang Tower," "it holds the mountain ranges in the distance and swallows the waters of the Yangtze. Vast and mighty, it seems virtually boundlessK"

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