CHU TEH-CHUN (b. 1920)
No. 404
signed in Chinese; signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 70-71' (lower right); signed in Chinese; signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN No. 404 1971' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
162.5 x 202.5 cm. (64 x 79 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1970-1971
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

He favours certain colours, jade or garden green, sky or ocean blue, golden yellow, autumn brown, pale white, sometimes he merges them, sometimes paints them against the opposite, he breaks the format, let light in to vibrate, blurs the system of contrast.
-Pierre Cabanne
Painted in the 70's, No.404 (Lot 55) intrigues a surprising level of lyrical rhythm and lucidity that is relatively rare in Chu Teh-Chun's oeuvre. The colour scheme and movement of the brush strokes reflect such uniqueness. Warm colours - such as yellow and orange - are not commonly seen in Chu's artworks. Throughout his artistic career, cold colour spectrum had always dominated (Fig. 1). No.404 is sedative as if it puts the viewer into a state of mediation. Chu enchants the viewer, horizontally gliding the brush in rhythm to create a space that is cinematically inviting.

In 1964, Chu painted Composition No.168 with traces of impasto technique (Fig. 2). Later, the artist detached from the influence of Nicholas De Staël and his style of abstract art- layering the canvas with impasto and lines to alter spatial length, width and thickness. To Western abstract artists, the employment of line involves multiple layers on flat surface; this empowers the medium to create three-dimensional visual effect.
'Line', to classical Chinese painting artists is an element not used to complicate the paper, or space; but instead, to bring forth and define the awareness of it. No.404 is an iconographical representation of Chu's mature and versatile visual language since the 1970's. He traces the impressions of classical Chinese paintings, and assimilates the techniques and perspectives of Western abstract art. On the surface, No. 404 provokes the spiritual aesthetics and awareness of the void.

Chu fixates the viewer's gaze towards the centre plane; such void is evoked by a lucid line - the stroke of Chinese character- ''. The Chinese character '' is a technique that classical Chinese landscape artists adopt in their works (Fig. 3) According to Chinese painter and art historian, Wang Bomin, the Chinese character '' elicits a relationship between the object and paper. Writing '' on paper, skews the heaviness towards centre, in turn, the 'void' is dispersed around the character, creating both the tangible and the intangible space.

In No. 404, Chu reinvents the image of '', to create a fluid stroke in the centre with yellow and orange colours. He paints the surroundings in dark green, blue and black, captivating the aesthetics and awareness of the void.

'Regardless of the origin, social meaning or techniques, painting has always been a visual and spiritual ground that surpasses centuries and culture. Chu Teh-Chun continues to search such ground, in expedition and discoveries, despite some of them contradicting his style.'
-Pierre Cabanne

Before embarking his journey to France in 1956, since young, Chu is a painter with virtuosity. He diligently studied classical Chinese paintings and calligraphies. Chinese landscape paintings emerged in Jin Dynasty (265-422). Zong Bing's literature The Preface to Landscape Painting is the first theoretical study of landscape paintings in Chinese art history. Highly influenced by the Taoism of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi, this literature sets the tone and ideology of Chinese landscape painting. The literature advocates simplicity, by executing paintings using neutral colours, with large blank areas on the paper. It liberates vision with multi-perspectives or no perspective. The early Chinese landscape paintings attempts to explore and elaborate the unseen, the unknown, the void and metaphysics.

In homage to classical Chinese paintings, with reverence to Western abstract art, Chu approaches the dichotomies and metaphysics of the earth and universe, spirit and life, darkness and light, with a mystical language yet to be interpreted in the No.404. Fully absorbed in the infinite quest of nature and energy, the artwork attempts to release the evocative tonality of the lithosphere. The horizontal force of the brush pulls and pushes layers of black, green, and blue towards the centre; not to condense, but to carve and open up space. This helps attract attention to the orange and yellow in the centre of the piece. No.404 radiates the darkness before light, the destruction before rebirth; the astounding pulsation before the rite of spring.

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), performed by Ballet Russes, is an avant-garde ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky, choreographed by Sergi Diaghilev and Vaslav. At the night of 29th May 1913, in Théâtre des Champs-élysées, Paris, Le Sacre du Printemps revolutionised contemporary ballet history. The debut of bassoon sounds and string instruments horrified the audience with its chaotic stage.
Juxtaposing No. 404 and Nicola Roerich's 1912 stage design, Kiss To The Earth (Fig. 4), the 1st variant decor for Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps, reveals a primitive energy of the earth and nature, spirit and life. Vertically comparing the two pieces a sense of familiarity can be felt. No.404 trembles and destructs, to resonate the sound of bassoons at the night of the performance of Le Sacre du printemps. Kiss To The Earth pacifies and restores the energy that was lost on Earth during the chaos.

No.404 becomes the past, the primordial turmoil beneath the earth, before creating nature and life. Kiss to the Earth, is the present, the reverence for trees, rivers and mountains; nature's tribute to No.404, the rite of spring, the polarity of destruction and reincarnation, the dichotomies of the earth and universe, spirit and life, darkness and light.

Chu reminisced the past with the poetic rhythm executed by the brush strokes, the grounding force of classical Chinese paintings. He contemplated the present, with the enthralling magnetism of Western abstract art. With maturity, flexibility and confidence, Chu liberated the void and found a force of energy unique to him; inspired by his homeland of the East, and the foreign countries of the West.

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