ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)


ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
signed in Chinese, signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed 'ZAO WOU-KI 10.3.85. 97x195 cm.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
97 x 195 cm. (38 1/5 x 76 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1985
Private Collection, Europe
This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki). A certificate of authenticity can be requested for the successful buyer.
J. Leymarie, Editions Cercle d’Art, Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, 1986 (illustrated, plate. 250, p. 308)
D. Abadie & M. Contensou, Ars Mundi, Zao Wou-Ki, Spain, 1988 (illustrated, plate. 62)
Y. Bonnefoy & G. de Cortanze, Editions La Difference Enrico Navarra, Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, 1998 (illustrated, p. 223)
Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (ed.), Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Paris, France, 2003 (illustrated, pp. 132-133)
Paris, France, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Zao Wou-Ki, October – December 2003

Brought to you by

Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

Lot Essay

Zao Wou-Ki returned to Chinese ink painting in the early 1970s, using ink smudge to create lines that are light, ephemeral and endlessly rich in detail on xuan paper. This new approach offered the artist a greater degree of freedom and flexibility, and opened up once again new expressive possibilities for oil painting. 10.03.85 exemplifies the artist’s concepts of composition during the 1980s—it embodies Zao’s study of abstract painting over the previous three decades and the fusion of Chinese ink painting and philosophy, and it is painting of perfect technique and singular style.

After his re-exploration of the roots of Chinese painting, Zao Wou-Ki began to experiment with using large areas of light colours or empty space as the background. As Zao said, “It looks like there is a great deal of empty space in my paintings. Yet it is more difficult to work with smudge in oil painting than in ink painting, so I devote more effort to empty space than solid space in my work. In Chinese painting, the intersection between empty space and solid space gives rise to rhythms that propel one another forward, instilling in the composition a subtle alternation between lightness and weight. I have been deeply inspired by tradition in this. If you say my work is different from that of most Western painters, it probably comes down to the perspective on the treatment of space.” 10.03.85 is one of the artist’s iconic works from this period.

The artist began with creating the structure with large and horizontal brushstrokes across the canvas, and then used fine brushwork and drip painting to enrich the composition. Upon closer look, one sees several fine black lines interwoven with orange beneath the centre like entangled seaweeds. On the left and along the bottom of the composition, layers of oil paint—with violet and blue litmus being the main colours—evoke striking and angular cliffs along the coast. On the right of the composition, Zao painted with oil paint that had been thinned down with a high ratio of solvent, and he tried to flatten the paint without leaving traces of brushwork across the canvas. Washes of orange and touches of marigold move and stir like waves splashing against the rocks, while the image also calls to mind the boundless galaxy. 10.03.85 resounds with a sense of fluidity that permeates, spreads and ripples, and encapsulates a misty and transcendent style. In the late stage of his career, Zhang Daqian, who had developed an impeccable command of Chinese painting and refined his art through the immersion in Eastern and Western arts, invented the splashed-colour landscape painting. In Temple at the Mountain Peak, amidst the heavy layers of mist are thick cyan colours splashing down—they settle, or blend, like light and shadows morphing between the cliffs. The colours seep through the mist and light up the texture of the cliffs. It echoes the perfect expression of Eastern artistic transcendence and meditative realm in 10.03.85 .

In the same year as he created 10.03.85 , Zao Wou-Ki returned to his alma mater , the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, to give lectures. At the time, he summed up his use of colour and light in painting as “dark in some places, light in some others; warm in some places, and cold in some others. It is related to both the forefront and the background.” Inspired by ink painting, Zao’s focus was not limited to the use of new colours, but he also emphasised the merging of colours—colour is the source of light, so the natural transition of colours is key in painting.

In 10.03.85 , Zao Wou-Ki depicted the background in navy blue and light yellow of varying shades and layers. The contrasting colours convey a bright and expansive sense of space, while the other colours mostly feature around the centre. He used orange, black, light blue and white shades that are more transparent, and traced the fluidity and permeation of ink painting with sheer variations of texture. The renowned Baroque painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a master of using contrasting colours to create brightness and shade and to capture light and shadow. In his work, there is often a touch of warm colours seeping bursting through the darkness that directs the viewer’s glance to the source of light. If one says looking at Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt is like seeing a ray of light in the dark night, and that Monet’s Matinée sur la Seine recalls the strings of smoke rising through the morning light, then 10.03.85 brings to mind the tremendous momentum of the sky and the earth—it surges and engulfs, with rings of evanescence. 10.03.85 is a large-scale canvas, and the artist instilled in it an expressive style akin to that of Chinese ink painting. It takes oil painting beyond the thick and monotonous visual effects, revealing the many variations of light and shadow between thickness, dryness, smudge and dissolve. Like the art critic Ragon Michel said, “According to Zao Wou-Ki, landscape, painting, the world, the cosmos, the sea, the nature, all now merge into a single entity (…).”

The year 1985 was a milestone in Zao Wou-Ki’s artistic career. Apart from returning to his alma mater, the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, to give lectures, he also accepted Ieoh Ming Pei’s invitation to create a commissioned work for the opening of Raffles City, Singapore—one that turned out to be the largest oil painting Zao created in his lifetime. It shows Zao was at his peak in both creative passion and power. In 2003, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume held a major retrospective of Zao’s work that proved to be an immense success. 10.03.85 was one of the works selected for this exhibition, which is testimony to its iconic status in Zao’s expansive oeuvre. After more than three decades, 10.03.85 is presented in the private art market for the first time, which makes it a rare and remarkable occasion.

More from 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All