Célestes Profondeurs (Celestial Depths)

Célestes Profondeurs (Celestial Depths)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 06.' (lower right); titled 'Célestes Profondeurs', signed in Chinese, signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 2006.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130 x 195 cm. (51 1/8 x 76 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2006
Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist by the present owner)
The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, Geneva

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

In Célestes Profondeurs (Celestial Depths) (Lot 57), Chu's large washes of colour and sweeping, striated brushstrokes demonstrate the immense skill he has honed since his early works. His use of colour has become richer and more brilliant as he sweeps the canvas with high-intensity dramatic hues. Dark blue and vibrant green make up the basic palette in an imposing and magnificent composition, built up through layering and tonal juxtaposition with the use of large Chinese brushes and diluted oil manipulated like ink wash.

Chu Teh-Chun appropriates the traditional technique liubai from literati painting with the application of translucent pale green, blue and yellow in the far-right distance, symbolizing cloudy or cloudy haziness. The luminous upper right quadrant also gives the viewer a visual hint for the source of lights-a typical style traceable in Western classicism. In his expedition for abstract inspired by Western art, Chu succeeded to transform the structure and abstract beauty in allusions to the poetic grandeur of Chinese landscapes, and their soaring peaks and waterfalls.

Chu Teh-Chun once acknowledged classical Chinese landscape painting as a major influence on his work, noting that he particularly admired the imposing style and lively manner of the 10th-century painter Fan Kuan. He added, "Fan Kuan has said that 'learning from nature is better than learning from man, and the human heart is an ever-greater source for learning than nature.' What he meant was that he considered the painter dominant, and that there was already a concept of abstraction. The Chinese people just didn't use the term 'abstraction,' that's all. Nature is absorbed into the artist's thought and then undergoes refinement, and it is the power of the artist's imagination, his sensibility, and his inner character that are revealed on the canvas. This is where the concepts behind Chinese painting and abstract painting very neatly come together."

On the contrary, Western painters stem from a tradition of representation where art acts to the service of a social, power or religious purpose. In the 19th Century with the Romantic then the Impressionist movements artists set free from this confinement and started to shift their focus towards their own subjectivity. The artist’s individuality is from then on at the centre of Western creation and art, detached from any utilitarian purpose, becomes an autonomous field of reflection. This new conception of art which places the artist and his individuality is close to the Chinese literati painting tracing back to the 10th Century Northern Song period, where, similarly, the object of painting is the subject. At that time, Western traditional landscape painting underwent a real transformation around 1840 through the works of J.M.W. Turner. In works such as Buttermere Lake (Fig. 1), Turner's uninhibited brushwork and subjective colours proclaim the tremendous energy and feeling of nature, while his deconstruction of natural forms opened way for the development of Impressionism and later schools of paintings. Starting with Rembrandt (Fig. 2) in the 17th Century and pursued with Turner one century later, the landscape painting becomes a great field of artistic explorations which set the ground for modernism, when Cézanne (Fig. 3), the fauvists and then cubists took over the subject matter to deconstruct it even further.

By contrast with Turner and Rembrandt, whose swirling compositions express the invisible force within nature and the smallness of humanity within its vast reach, Chu Teh-Chun uses the elements of points, lines, and planes to give the details of the physical world a spiritual dimension, making the scene on the canvas a symbolic one. By bringing the landscape painting tradition into abstraction the artist positions himself as the heir of the Western avant-garde and Chinese literati. Although he remained strictly attached to figuration and relies on a different aesthetic, British painter David Hockney reinterpreted landscape painting in a similarly personal and unique way, where the artist’s subjectivity becomes the privileged lens, as stated by Marco Livingstone “The key in the resurgence of the landscape as a fullyfledged subject matter, in Hockney’s work, lies in the main principle which founded the discoveries of modernism: the artist’s subjectivity.” (in Sygnalétique pour un itinéraire, David Hockney Espace/paysage, Centre Georges-Pompidou, 1988, p. 31) Both artists belong to the renewal of landscape tradition in a ground-breaking manner, which serves the purpose of artistic innovation in the 20th Century.

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