(WEI LE TANG, Chinese, B. 1921)
signed and dated 'John Way 69' (lower left); inscribed '26 x 50' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
127 x 65.5 cm. (50 x 25 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1969
Private Collection, USA

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Lot Essay

Abstract art has become a main aesthetic component in the development of art in the 20th Century. Since the works of Wassily Kandinsky at the start of the century, abstract art has overthrown the predominant trend of the Impressionist masters and their pursuit of capturing specific light conditions. Abstract artists abandoned traditional compositions of distinguishable objects and forms executed in the one-point perspective, in favour of an inward exploration in a freewheeling universe of sheer visual colour and force. The 1950s and 1960s saw a global surge of artists experimenting in the abstract genre. In China, the pioneers included Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, and George Chann. Compared to these three artists, John Way drew the most inspirations from Chinese calligraphy and seal cutting, revealing in his brushwork a true understanding of these Chinese art forms.
Untitled (Lot 215) displays the artistic creativity characteristic of John Way. In this painting, the black ink-like diluted oil paint was splashed freely on the canvas. The quick brushstrokes forcefully brush against the visually strong blue green background, capturing both vitality and tranquillity. By controlling the length, thickness and intensity of these lines, John Way presents the kind of rhythm and aesthetics often seen in Chinese calligraphy. Executed in the manner of cursive script, these lines remind one of characters despite their lack of any literal meaning, conveying a sense of vitality and a visual effect of freshness and simplicity.
In 1956 the artist moved to the United States with his family, a date setting an important turning point to his life and artistic career. He first stayed in Boston and studied at the Massachusetts Architecture Institute. John Way was introduced in 1957 to the art of Frank Kline, which he was impressed by the power and audacity. He thus proceeded to use Kline as an inspiration translating this reference into his bold dark calligraphic gestures such as in Untitled (lot 215) painted in 1969.
John Way's works in the 1950 and early 1960s are characterized by the use of intense and bold colours layered on top of each other. Untitled (Lot 216) is reminiscent from this very period when the artist found the essence of his style at the Crossroads of East and West. By the end of the 1960s onward, traditional Chinese painting techniques became more apparent in his works as he began manipulating his brush like an ink painting. Untitled (Lot 215) is a fine example of John Way's mastery over the ink painting techniques such as dripping, splashing, bleeding, and cun rubbing of the ink. He let the paint to run across freely on the surface, creating the visual effect of free movement and expansion, and reflecting the realm of emptiness and boundless space often found in Oriental art.
John Way's ink dripping and pouring techniques were similar to the "action painting" style adopted by Jackson Pollock popular in New York in the 1950s. Both their paintings impart an overwhelming sense of boundless space, a mirror into the soul and feelings of both artists during the creative process. Way often used vivid colours such as reds, yellows and blues, likely to have been influenced and inspired by Han and Tang dynasties frescos and tri-coloured pottery glazes. His love for overglaze enamels was apparent in that he had a small studio in his home for firing ceramics and also manifested through the use of vibrant colours in his paintings.

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