(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, 1920-2014)
signed in Chinese; signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 90-91' (lower right); signed in Chinese; signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1990-91' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130 x 162 cm. (51 1/8 x 63 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1990-1991
Gift from the artist in 1991 to the present owners
Private Collection, France

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Lot Essay

In 1990 Chu Teh-Chun moved to a spacious studio in Vitry-sur-Seine in the Parisian suburbs. This event marked an important step for the artist as it enabled him to paint bigger canvases and offered the peace and serenity he required for his practice. Pierre Cabanne, French art critic and close friend to Chu Teh-Chun recalls that the painter 'worked most of the day until nightfall in this meticulously clean studio. Brushes, colours and implements were in perfect order because he preferred painting by daylight. When evening came, he did calligraphy'. Like a meditative monk the artist purified his working space to the most rigorous elements, allowing natural light as the unique external source to his intimate relationship to the canvas. The daily calligraphic exercise helped him gain the concentration, assertiveness and freedom requested for his abstract painting practice.
Powerful and pleasant at once, Untitled (Lot 11) depicts a dichotomous contrasted space, where soft large sweeps of wash-like browns balance an intense luminescent cascading span on the right, creating a flowing movement across the painting. The brushstrokes converge into a middle incandescent vanishing point at the boundaries between light and dark, full and empty, supernatural forces becoming the artist's constant subject matter from this period. About Chu Teh-Chun's painting method in the early 1990s, Pierre Cabanne interestingly notices a release to an immanent force, the painter acting as the sole visual translator of an absolute universe: 'A Chinese painter once said that one must begin a painting with a broom and finish it with an embroidery needle. It is a lesson Chu Teh-chun has not forgotten. When he paints particularly very large compositions, his brush first sweeps across the surface in one spontaneous gesture. He does not yet know what his aim is, though the vision of the painting is already in his mind. Then, in quick brush strokes, he brings out of this initial expanse, which he seldom amends, or if he adds touches, there is never an overabundance of them, incandescent bursts of fire and strings of many-coloured flares of light that rend the darkness as they spread out and away in explosions.' From the 1980s Chu Teh-Chun develops a complete new approach to spatial presentation. The painter favours large Chinese brushes and applies more translucent layers to the manner of ink-wash painting. He creates an intricate game of multidirectional brushstrokes, especially apparent in the dark left area. Imitating the cubist treatment of space, Chu Teh-Chun uses his brush to deconstruct the field into subdivided areas, thus creating a sense of relief. Whereas Fernand Léger paints geometrical shapes as a way to access abstraction, Chu Teh-Chun pushes the technique to its extreme abstract form in creating a universal poetic image with no tie to figuration.
A trip to Venice in 1991 with his fellow artist Xavier Longobardi brought Chu Teh-Chun to the discovery of Renaissance Italian painting. The study of Italian early 15th Century art had a great impact in Chu's works from the 1990s and particularly on his representation of light. Leonardo da Vinci revolutionised the use of light at his time by painting with extreme contrast of light and shade. According to the Renaissance Italian painter 'the lights which may illuminate opaque bodies are of four kinds. These are: diffused light as that of the atmosphere, and direct, as that of the sun. The third is reflected light; and there is a fourth which is that which passes through bodies, as linen or paper or the like.' In a similar revolutionising way Chu Teh-Chun often added to his compositions a bright luminous area, bringing to contemporary abstract painting a totally unique and innovative element. In Untitled, Chu Teh-Chun practiced what Da Vinci calls the atmospheric perspective, using bright sky blue to convey a sense of distance, thus depth. The contrast between the bright colour and the dark brown adds to the relief of the large cubist-like brushstrokes, further enhancing the three dimensional effect. Whereas his Paris School counterparts break with the traditional parameters of Western figuration - light, perspective, depth and lines, Chu Teh-Chun reinterpreted them, elevating abstraction to the ultimate form of art, rather than a mere rupture with the past.
Chu Teh-Chun always used his travel experiences as an important inspiration in his artistic creations. However no matter how cosmopolitan he has come to be regarded, Chu remains quintessentially Chinese. The abstraction in Chu's work is eventually motivated by his interpretation of the core meanings of Chinese culture, and the traditional art of landscape painting, that he studied at the Hangzhou School of Arts. Combining the Western art innovations of the Renaissance, the premises of abstract cubism with his knowledge in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, Chu Teh-Chun surpasses it all in achieving a perfect balance between rationality and emotional sentiments.

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