CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)
Composition No. 79
signed in Chinese, signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' (lower left); signed in Chinese, signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN No. 79 1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
116 x 81 cm. (45 5/8 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1961
Formerly the Property of an Important French Collection, acquired directly from the artist
Anon. sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 28 May 2011, Lot 1017
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark
is right,
Because their words had forked no into lightning they
Do not go gentle that good night.
- Dylan Thomas
In 1955, Chu Teh-Chun moved from Taiwan to France, and in 1956 embarked upon abstract painting, two years later securing the appreciation of the well-known Parisian gallery Gallerie Henriette Legendre, with which he signed a six-year contract. With concerns as to his means of living thus allayed, he was able to relax his mind and freely explore the abstract genre, and this was not due to the rapid development of diverse European modernism about which he was somewhat hesitant. This also inspired Chu Teh-Chun in the early 1960s to undertake a composition dominated by sharp black strokes (Fig. 1). In the mid-1960s, he favoured a colour density composition with a ridge bordering the canvas, encircled by converted energy desirous of achieving a breakthrough momentum (Fig. 2); on to the end of the 1960s, Chu Teh-Chun became more conversant with the blending of oil colours, and the overlap between two thus introduced more layering as his brush became more sophisticated and vibrant and a little more elegant and soft (Fig. 3).
Composition No. 79 (Lot 24) was completed in 1961, the quiet mysterious blue of the sea is set off by a black which pours down from the top to bottom like a waterfall, covering half the canvas. Fine brushwork beneath the two ends intertwines into a sharp claw - like ridge covered with stark images - even a bit of arrogant momentum, which is a rare manifestation in Chu Teh-Chun's works - so that viewers are stunned and willing to surrender to this nether atmosphere which, with its vocabulary explaining the pure aesthetics of traditional Chinese painting. This high-powered device later laid a solid foundation for his artistic career.
Under the influence of traditional Western composition theory, the artist seeks to induce the audience to disregard the margin of the canvas and to avoid the viewer's line of sight being drawn to the corners, and the painter has managed to fix the viewer's point of view in a loop. In Composition No. 79, Chu Teh-Chun follows the usual strict composition, utilising a central axis of dark strokes running parallel to a vertical canvas, with the ink on the large canvas dominating the bottom half, and transitioning down, while the formation of a fine black brush loop successfully guides the viewer's sight to bypass the powerfully sonorous rhythm of the endless flow thus generated. Similarly, with the vertical composition, the visual effects and straight horizontal brush strokes produce a distinct visual effect. In Eaux Profondes No. 63, the first brush stroke cleaves the canvas in two horizontally, and then boldly extends, executing a straight line that causes the angle of view to roam freely in the background space (Fig. 4). In Composition No. 79, the loop passes through this cycle and in it the viewer's gaze roots in the centre of the canvas at two major glossy blocks.
Levels in this flat painting come from direct changes of colour. Composition No. 79 uses an apparently gargantuan thick black brush in an upright position, with which Chu Teh-Chun intersperses subtle pastels between each brush stroke, with the black ink very close to the blues of the entire colour surface to avoid a heavy visual texture (Fig. 5). The centre of the black square in the middle of the canvas is elaborate, with zinc white, light blue, sky blue, and the release of the light colours in transition and transformation exudes the glow. Tint represents illusion and negative space whilst solid black is the positive space; the juxtaposition of the two produces a perfect three-dimensional sculpted texture.
At the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Chu Teh-Chun studied painting under Pan Tianshou and Li Kuchan, two masters of ink painting, and after turning solely to oil painting creation, this training period established his strong traditional aesthetics and ink techniques. He had just begun to explore the abstract in the early 1960s when he was influenced by Nicolas de Sta?l and was particularly fond of the colour black. Composition No. 79 with its blue and black brush strokes and Nicolas de Sta?l appear quite similar at first glance, but with careful scrutiny, viewers may discover details of Chu Teh-Chun's heritage of traditional ink strokes, not only in his relative flexibility, but also in the lightness or heaviness which seems to open even more levels like wide open doors and which, when compared to de Sta?l's thick paint and palette knife brick-like flow has more dense patches (Fig. 6). With his maturation into the realm of abstract forms, Chu Teh-Chun uses a Western vocabulary of Chinese ink to establish beauty, and this thus becomes the most representative of his career.

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