(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-Ki ZAO in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right); signed 'ZAO WOU-KI' in Pinyin; dated '5.4.63'; inscribed '50x46' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
46 x 50 cm. (18 1/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Collection of Morgan Knott, Dallas, Texas, USA, 1965
Collection of Mrs. Walter Pharr, Dallas, Texas, USA
Gifted to the present owner
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black & white, p. 286).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated, p. 286).

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Lot Essay

Ipaint my own life buy I also try to paint an invisible place, that of dreams, somewhere where one feels in perfect harmony, even in the midst of agitated shapes or opposing forces. Every picture, from the smallest to the biggest, is always a fragment of that dream place.
Zao Wou-Ki

By the mid-1950s, narrative contents had disappeared from Zao Wou-ki's paintings as the artist turned to abstraction to convey a deeper feeling. According to Zao, this was a natural evolution: "It wasn't a deliberate move on my part; extracting my paintings from reality was a kind of necessity, and it just came about naturally." The romanticized and representational depiction of landscape and figures is what the artist wanted to extract from his works. He replaced such depiction with imaginative oracle-bone inscriptions, the linear motifs of his own creation. Through these incomprehensible symbols and signs, Zao projected feelings towards the course of life that would be otherwise difficult to express. By the end of the 1950s, however, Zao was already moving away from his Oracle-Bone series and shifting toward pure abstraction to express a grander inner vision. As pointed out by Zao's friend François Cheng, "this was a new phase, concluding the series of works concerned with the physical world." This new phase thus capped off Zao's previous periods in which he focused on figurative subjects and symbolic motifs. Over time he transitioned from a painterly approach to a more suggestive vocabulary. In 1958, Zao began naming his works according to the date of their completion; by the 1960s, he stated that he had achieved "concrete results" in his paintings that helped him look at the world with a different kind of vision.
Zao Wou-Ki's 1960s works 15.05.60 (Lot 7) and 23.05.61 (Lot 3) are an attempt to give new life to his work by using abstraction to renew the classical stylistic form. Such renewal reminds us of Tang Dynasty painter and calligrapher, Zhao Mengfu, when he reinterpreted the Northern Song monumental landscapes by artists like Li Tang and Guo Xi (Fig. 1), using the brushwork borrowed from "cursive script" and "flying strokes" in calligraphy. In 05.04.63 (Lot 1), however, Zao adopted an entirely different approach. In addition to the theme of the monumental Northern Song landscapes, Zao extracts a section from those large-scale works and uses it as the subject of his subsequent work. Through this method he presents a fragment of landscape that is bian jiao zhi jing, meaning the view in a peripheral vision. As art historian James Cahill noted, "These depict a remote corner of the world, installed in front of us. The artist leads our imagination beyond the painted imagery, all the way to the entire world beyond the work." The composition of 05.04.63 therefore produces a sense of space in microcosm, which is also seen in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. By only depicting the sloping rocks in the foreground, a whole composition of the river with its near and far sides is completed by the landscape painters. In Zao's work, the arrangement of empty space evokes a sense of a river valley extending into the distance. Zao uses oil to produce dense layers of paint and creates a deep contrast with the surrounding empty space, thus bringing forth a light and pleasant compositional balance. A departure from the monumental landscapes, the work reflects a different kind of harmonious feeling sought after by the early literati painters of China.

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