(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '73' (lower right)
oil and acrylic on paper
50 x 65 cm. (19 5/8 x 25 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1973
Christie's Hong Kong, 28 May 2006, Lot 194
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

"We can 'read' his gestures with the brush as mountains or clouds, as waves, as the cosmic swirl of Chaos at the beginning of the world-visionary forms, forever appearing and dissolving before our eyes. Like the dragons in a Chan painting by the Song Dynasty master Chen Rong, Chu's images occupy some mysterious realm between form and the formless, the temporal and the eternal."
Michael Sullivan
Entrancing Colour, Deep Mystery
Beginning in the 1970s, Chu Teh-Chun became concerned with exploring colour and composition in his art, to achieve a more fully developed aesthetic expression. Influences that had previously been inspirations, whether the square-cut structures of the Paris School or the proportions of the classical Chinese painter Fan Kuan, were now less tangibly present in his work. Chu sought new innovation, based on his own rich cultural background and heritage, to create a unique, new, Eastern-flavoured abstract aesthetic. The brushwork with which Chu produces his scenes and images possesses great ease and freedom that is revealed in the high degree of control he exerts over the lines and forms of his compositions. At the same time, he also displays a unique mastery in the use of colour, frequently employing dense shades of chrome yellow, azure blue, vermillion red, and deep hunter green to create the brilliant, resonant colour combinations that leap from his canvases.
4.4.1979 (Lot 110) dates from 1979. Flowing brushwork moves up and down and across the canvas to suggest drifting clouds or flowing water, while lines, points, and planes emerge and leap into a great void. Chu Teh-Chun's lyrical, poetic brushwork describes a mysterious, fathomless space that seems somewhere between form and formlessness, as if capturing the moment just before dawn when the first rays of light break through the depths of the night. Brown tones form the basic palette of Chu's background, while the painting's subtle ambience derives from the shifting shadows between the darker and lighter shades of the surrounding pigments, while bursts of colour create outlines for a sense of space in the work's central portion. As Bai Juyi said, describing his surroundings in The Grass Hut on Lushan Mountain, "The views here, in the shifting weather from cloudy to clear, the emergence of dusk and dawn, go through a thousand changes impossible to describe." Shadowy, dusky colours encircle virtually the entire canvas, and though the textured strokes in various shades of brown allow glimpses of brightness, they seem to compress and constrict the spatial effects. Highly saturated points of red, blue, green, and yellow fly and disperse outward from the centre, while brushwork, with a flavour similar to the "flying" style of calligraphy strokes streaked with white, strongly conveys the effect of beams of light. The directionality of the white light streaking through the cracks in space hints at a light source that is sometimes masked and sometimes uncovered. This work offers many clues about what Chu Teh-Chun learned from Western classical painting, and illustrates just how much this artist had absorbed, in technique and in spirit, from both East and West.
12.01.1976 (Lot 104) offers a rainbow-like array of colours, out of which evolves a universe of phenomena undergoing instantaneous transformations. Fine lines dip, wind and curl among spots of colour, like curling threads of silk whose embroidery knits the painting together. Just as in the image from classical Chinese poetry of "pearls falling on a jade platter," this design creates visual impetus as it winds its fine and nimble way through the painting. In another work here, Untitled (Lot 109), and a second Untitled (Lot 108), Chu Teh-chun presents compositions of gorgeous and captivating colour, liberating colour itself to exert its own inherent and powerful visual force; these colours combine with his lines to form abstract planes, producing works in which the element of colour independently blooms to form its own sense of beauty and structure. Standing before these two Chu Teh-Chun works from the 1970s draws the viewer into a meditative space: we seem to raise our heads and gaze into the universe and the brilliant array of glittering stars in its depths, moving with slow grandeur along the vast river of time; the work may also call forth a different image, the sense of viewing a piece of rare and valuable ore along the plane of a crosscut section, following the miraculous overlapping of each vein and inner plane of colour, until we fall into a trance of wonder at the mysterious intricacies of the natural world. Chu Teh-Chun's 1986 Les Rouges II (Lot 105) draws on three pure, basic tones of red, yellow, and white to structure fantastic visual effects like flows of molten lava. The intense, scorching mood of the colour continues to burn, burst, explode, and spread throughout the canvas. The brilliant, even dazzling colour never veers into garishness; the colours work together so as to intensify the full visual energy of each individual hue, making this a visual experience with a lasting impact.
In the entrancing power that flows from the colours of any Chu Teh-Chun work, we find many of the same implications and dynamics that Kandinsky sought as he explored the pure effects of colour in abstract painting, where the viewer is brought into a purely mental and imaginative realm of colour and space (Fig. 1). Chu Teh-Chun here takes the beautiful freshness of oil pigments and melds them with elements of folk-art style to transport the essence of ink-wash painting into a new era. Within the relatively small dimensions of these works Chu derives much of the monumental quality and brilliant splendor of traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

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