Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)
Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)


Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)
signed in Chinese; signed 'ZAO' (lower right)
signed in Chinese, signed and titled 'Zao Wou-Ki 1.10.81' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm. (28 3/4 x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1981
Private Collection, France (acquired directly from the artist by the present owner)
This work is referenced in the archive of the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Hier et Demain, Paris, and Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain. Documentation by Francoise Marquet, 1986 (illustrated in black and white, plate 546, p. 352)

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Lot Essay

1981 was a busy year for Zao Wou-Ki. After staging an exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, he proceeded on to a personal tour of Japan; all of this naturally resulted in a relative decline in his painting output for that year. During the 1970s, Zao Wou-Ki delved once again into the use of water-based pigments and paper following his cultural re-assimilation. The result is watercolour and ink on paper works with clear rhythms and harmony between lightness and weight, brightness and shadow (Fig. 1). From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, Zao Wou-Ki created more than a dozen double, triple and quadruple large group paintings and smaller paintings (Fig. 2), as well as a large number of prints. Single medium-sized paintings such as this are thus quite rare. 1.10.81 (Lot 58) not only bears the purple-blue characteristic of the 1980s, but the predominance of blue also constructs a style of dense "vacancy" that renders this work quite a rarity among 1981 paintings on the market.
Starting in the early 1960s, Zao began to add masses of turpentine in an effort to add a layering effect to his paintings. After re-exploring the roots of Chinese painting, he began to imitate the aura effect of ink on rice paper, at the same time using a large pastel or blank background. In 1.10.81 he bisected the canvas into two halves at the mid-section and, with a large brush executed horizontal strokes from right to left on both upper and lower panels, thereby imparting a lightly-textured quality with the turpentine easing pigment transfer and thus conducing smoother brushwork. With a closer look at the pastel pigment layers, viewers will notice that within each layer of colour, there are delicate gradations in shade, which is seemingly a reflection of a single pure colour (Figs. 3 and 4). This displays Zao's mastery in the use of oils. The use of turpentine dilutes the paints, resulting in the loss of coverage and glossiness. In 1.10.81 Zao's pigments go through a metamorphosis where clouds intimately inter-coil and dappled light is reflected on water.
This motif undergoes the twin processes of fragmentation and layering which greatly complicate its spatial reading. This is emblematic of Zao Wou-Ki's works, but is also the hallmark of paintings by Western artists - although Zao uses more intricately detailed texturing in the spaces. Danish artist Per Kirkeby's Untitled (No. 133B) - also completed in 1981 - gains strong momentum from its swift back-and-forth brush strokes. In addition to displaying the Post-Impressionist Western art tradition that focuses on strokes, every inch of the canvas also seems to hit the viewer full force, with the rapid brushwork finely wrought in the top right constructing an active, extroverted space (Fig. 5). In contrast, 1.10.81 with its rolling texture, blooming effect, fine brushwork and dense coating of a semi-open emptiness is reminiscent of a micro-universe with expanding layers. Just as Untitled (No. 133B) appears as a majestic waterfall tumbling down, so is 1.10.81 a fine bubbling current of water that forms into one long flow, a myriad views of which will never induce a sense of repletion.

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