signed in Chinese; signed and dated ‘CHU TEH-CHUN 87’ (lower right); signed in Chinese; titled, signed and dated ‘Un geste de lumiere CHU TEH-CHUN 1987’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
195 x 130 cm. (76 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1987
Gabrielle Fliegans Gallery, Strasbourg, France
Private Collection, France (acquired from the above in 1989 during the travelling exhibition in Monaco)
This work has been submitted to the Atelier Chu Teh-Chun.
Monaco, Galerie Garbielle Fliegans, Exposition des oeuvres de Chu Teh-Chun, 15 December 1989 – 24 January 1990.

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Lot Essay

1987 is a cornerstone year for Chu Teh-Chun as his first retrospective opens in Taiwan at the National Museum of History in Taipei. It is announced as ‘Mr Chu’s first exhibition as a guest in his native country”. He hasn’t been exhibited in Asia for 32 years when he left this land for the French shores in 1955. This exhibition will travel across seventeen cultural centres in Taiwan. The same year, he will be exhibited in the Museum of Modern art in Liège, Belgium and in a group exhibition at the City hall in Paris called ‘La Passion de Dunkerque’. Un Geste de Lumière (A Gesture of Light) painted in 1987 thence comes at a time of recognition for the artist, accompanied by a bolder style, liberating his composition and his brush.

Un Geste de Lumière is a strong testimony of the artist’s commitment, served by an assured language and dexterity of the gesture, making it one of the strongest component of his abstract landscapes. Known as a well trained calligrapher, Chu Teh-Chun learned to tame his gesture and to tune it on the same pace of his brush. In Un Geste de Lumière , this intimacy between the artist’s vision, the hand and the brush reaches a peak and melts into a unique and powerful movement. The swift brushstrokes cross the background of the composition with a powerful energy, opening shimmering and colourful touches. For a few years Chu Teh-Chun paints with large brushes that he handles with the same precision as a pinpoint ink pencil (fig.1). With this innovative technique, the medium of oil which is usually Western painters’ preserve becomes as fluid as ink. The oil spreads freely on the surface, as if it was a refined ink wash by the calligrapher Huai Su whose brush was compared to a “snake on the run, a snake powerful in its seat… a galloping brush, rapid ink, and waves of rushing horses”. This ease that the artist inherited from his training in Hangzhou gave him the possibility to create the monumental and vivid composition of Un Geste de Lumière. The artist reached a maturity and a knowledge that enable him to express freely his poetic inner voice. The composition becomes a track to discover the mental imagery of the artist.

The calligraphic training opened to Chu Teh-Chun’s knowledge the expression of the Chinese traditional poetry. Among others, Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei will be a most influential figure. In his renowned essay The Secrets of Landscape , the poet urges the artist to “seek the essence of nature” to “gain success”. The traditional painter should then depict landscapes which are the vector of the natural inner forces. Chu Teh-Chun adds to this requirement the abstract forms he learned from his Parisian peers. In 1955, just after his arrival in France, he discovered the freedom of Nicolas de Staël in the National Museum of Modern Art of Paris. Inspired by the creative force and freedom of this impressive personality, the 35 years old artist will be profoundly touched by the spontaneity of the gesture in the composition. By the 1980s, Chu Teh-Chun had find a way to link this abstract gesture to his precise calligrapher wrist. The landscapes keep the symbolic force of the traditional Chinese paintings but leave behind the figurative elements, making it therefore purely symbolic. In this specific painting, the title gives us access to the symbolic layer of meaning, it is “the key to passing beyond the frontier of reality and reaching the inner landscape that Chu Teh-Chun has created” as Pierre-Jean Remy notes in his monograph on the artist (P.-J. Rémy, Chu Teh-Chun , Paris, 2006, p. 41). Un Geste de Lumière is a depiction of the light, this evanescent element which nourished many generations of artists, in the Asian culture but also in the Western art.

In 1956 during an initiatory trip around Europe with his wife Mrs. Chu Ching-Chao, Chu Teh-Chun discovered painters like Goya and El Greco who modulate the light to underline and give meaning to their figurative composition. In The Annunciation (fig.2) painted between 1597 and 1600 for example, El Greco places the light as the focal point of the composition and the scene that derives from it is all driven by this meaningful element. Since then, the light in Chu Teh-Chun’ paintings becomes one of the main subject of his abstract composition. Chu Teh-Chun will be strike by this use of a natural element as a living character. Later in 1970, Rembrandt’s use of light will be another “shock” in his oeuvre. Pierre Cabanne testifies that the artist “spent hours looking at the Night Watch (fig .3) and the Jewish Bride ” (Pierre Cabanne, Chu Teh-Chun , Paris, 1993, p. 108). A reconciliation of the Asian and the Western poetic operates in this light, the art historian notes: “Chu Teh- Chun sees in Rembrandt’s work the expression of two basics principles of action and counter-action of Chinese cosmogology, the yang and the yin (…). Yang is light and warmth, yin is darkness and humility” (ibid.). A series of abstract paintings would derive from this subject. In Un Geste de Lumière the light emerges from the centre of the composition, setting it in two parts; the upper part would be the yang, crossed by joyful oranges, reds and autumnal greens when its opposite opens in the other part where the colours are covered by a soft shade. This is the yin where one can still recognise fading touches of light, just below the dark. The fierce symbolic light composes a whole imaginary landscape, reduced to the essence of nature, freed from the figurative necessities.

This landscape ruled by the light is also a testimony of the artist’s gesture, a spontaneous writing that recall the artistic breakthrough opened by the action painting movement. The composition is a score where one can read and follow the artist’s movement, his brush and inner melody. Like in Untitled (fig.4) painted in 1963 by the Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga, one can read the swirling movement created by the artist’s body who used to paint with his foot. Un Geste de Lumière testifies of this emotional outburst intimately linked to the artist’s self. The brush sweeps back and forth across the canvas and as Pierre Cabanne describes “natural forms explode and spread out as re-created by the painter’s gesture and branch out like a living body”. Created at a turning point in the artistic journey of Chu Teh-Chun and at the dawn of his recognition by his peers, Un Geste de Lumière capsulates the artist’s energy and majesty to deliver a vibrant composition.

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