Teh-Chun Chu (b. 1920)
CHU TEH-CHUN (ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)

No. 118

CHU TEH-CHUN (ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
No. 118
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin (lower right)
oil on canvas
116 x 120 cm. (45 5/8 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1962
Private Collection, Asia
Galerie Arlette Gimaray, Chu Teh-Chun, Paris, France, 1992 (illustrated, unpaged)
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Chu Teh-chun, Paris, France, 2000 (illustrated, p. 48).
National Museum of History & Thin Chang Corporation, Chu Teh-chun 88 Retrospective, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008 (illustrated, p. 109).

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

"Formlessness has its benefits. It liberates painting from the constraints and limitations of form. When you can exert any idea onto paintings, the space for creation becomes infinite." - Chu Teh Chun

Breaking away from form
In 1956, shortly after his arrival in Paris, Chu Teh Chun began to experiment with abstract painting. His works from this period are intermingled with tangible and intangible elements, as well as realistic observation and abstraction. This represents a significant change from his earlier figurative landscapes. In his early days in Paris, around two thirds of his oeuvre were figurative works and only one third was abstract. Chu Teh Chun was inspired to move towards abstraction after seeing the works of Cezanne and Nicholas de Sta?l. In the Spring of 1956, the Paris government held a retrospective exhibition on Nicholas de Sta?l at the Mus?e National d'art Moderne. Chu was deeply moved by the exhibition. There, he suddenly saw what was missing in his paintings: "Is that not the violence and spontaneity I have been looking for in my own paintings? K In my own creations, it is as though I have been bound by a formless hand. What is this hand? How do I get rid of it?" Upon seeing de Stael's works at the exhibition, Chu suddenly realized that "the invisible hand" that dictated him was form itself. Consequently, he understood that the only way for him to express his thoughts freely was to break from "form".

At the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, under the guidance of Wu Dayu, Chu was also introduced to the works of Cezanne, who became an important source of inspiration for the artist. Chu was drawn to the visual elements in Cezanne's scenic landscapes. Keen to experiment, he thought deeply about how he could dismantle inanimate scenic landscapes into basic elements. Step by step, Chu discovered the "dots", 'lines" and "flat surfaces" that came from simple geometric reduction.

As French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says, "Once the artist is seduced by the basic elements of an object, they naturally give birth to creation." Although Chu was deeply informed by these two masters of Western Art, his strong Chinese sensibilities are still palpable in his works. In a natural and subtle manner, he injects the poetic, spiritual feeling of traditional Chinese monumental landscapes into his works, mapping the essence of traditional Chinese paintings onto formerly rational basic elements. In doing so, he transports the characteristics and richness of Tang and Song landscapes across the boundaries of time and culture.

No.118 (Lot 7) illustrates Chu's gradual departure from de Stael's architectural visual language of thick vertical and horizontal lines and colour blocks (Fig. 1 & 2). The small blocks that begin to appear in Chu's works in 1957 dissolve into a symphony of blues, whites and greys which intersect with the black lines. Chu uses the width of the brush to draw attention to the swiftness and power of his lines. He moves beyond his past tendency of "drawing" to an abstracted "writing".
This painting displays an "ease" not observed in the artist's earlier works. At the same time, it still carries the same tonal variety and captivating energy. This painting also epitomizes the "violence" and "ease" characteristic of Chu's artistic language. According to Chu, the one thing he learned from his study of Chinese paintings was that "being at ease" does not only apply to the method of painting, it is a state of mind one has to adopt when painting. This state of mind is very much like the sudden moment of enlightenment, stimulated by the vastness of the universe.

Lin Fengmian's expansive landscape seems to emerge faintly out of No. 118. The square canvas condenses the four planes found in Lin's hanging scroll (Fig. 3). Chu's lines do not simply delineate the mountain ranges, rocks, branches and leaves; it injects a melodic rhythm into the painting. These lines recall Lin Fengmian's suggestion that curves are the "lines of beauty and life." In contrast to Western abstract artists such as Franz Kline (Fig. 4), Willem de Kooning (Fig. 5), Chu Teh Chun's lines have distinct Chinese calligraphic echoes.

In a wild, gestural manner, Chu expresses the joys of ink wash with Western oil paint medium. The spontaneous and extremely fine lines are imbued with the Eastern calligraphic sentiments. His vigorous brushstrokes resonate with each other and bear similarities with the sweeping cursive gestures, twists and turns of Peng Wen's Poems in Cursive detail. (Fig. 6) The gaps between the lines reveal the white paint in the background in the same way faint light is able to shine through the cracks of a wall. This balances the heaviness of oil paint.

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