No. 92

No. 92
signed in Chinese, signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' (lower right); signed in Chinese, signed, dated and titled 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1961 No. 92' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
73.5 x 73.5 cm. (28 7/8 x 28 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1961
Private Collection, Europe
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 25 November 2012, lot 106
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, Geneva.

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Lot Essay

On Chu Teh-Chun’s lifelong quest to exploring the infinite roads of abstraction, the artist composed many styles of expression after his arrival in France in 1955. Chu’s work evolved within a Western abstract framework yet called forth the confident, natural brushwork of the East. He wrote “I hope to forge a new style of abstract painting out of the colour relationships of Western art and the abstract lines of calligraphy: a concept of abstraction that will be able to express what is inexpressible in the lyrics of our classical Chinese poetry.”

Looking at No. 70 (Lot 36), one cannot ignore the deep connection with Nicolas de Staël’s Painting dated January 1947. In 1956, Chu attended a retrospective exhibition of the Russian-born artist de Staël at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. The bold, free aura of the works he saw there provided a rich visual experience and aroused a response in Chu Teh-Chun’s mind, after which he began to work on the non-figurative works he had been pondering for a while. In just four short years, Chu's talent as a painter was revealed in his bold experiments with abstraction and were met with great acclaim in the Parisian art world. In 1960, Chu held a solo show at the Galerie Henriette Legendre, and was invited to represent the Eastern members of the Ecole de Paris. Similar by their thick slanted lines intersecting with forcefulness in a vertical composition against a monochrome background, both works produce a strong sense of agitation. While de Stael applied strong thick lines with a palette knife, Chu chose free-flowing brushwork that incorporates the techniques of Chinese calligraphy, with strokes that range from light to heavy and from briskly energetic to relaxed. The X-shaped composition created around a central vertical axis creates an endless flow where the eye dances from one corner to the other in an energetic infinity loop, always returning to the centre of the composition. The result is an intense dramatic visual effect in earthy tones reminiscent of Rembrandt van Rijn, whom he greatly admired.

In No. 92 (Lot 37) painted only one year later, Chu Teh-Chun gained a much more confident stroke. He appears to use a very thick brush running horizontally on the surface in a dense pattern and energetic rhythm. Using black lines and monochromatic blocks of colour, characteristic of his 1960s paintings, Chu shows a high level of maturity in his style. The subtle variations of blue, brown, black, ochre and grey set within strong, vigorous black lines call to mind the image of a vigorous struggle on a stormy sea painted by Rembrandt. Between the layered strokes and blocks of colour, white flashes shine through in the centre of the composition. This game of light and shadow accentuate the optical dramatics. Chu wrote: “The colour and lines in my images are never random results, but are put together harmoniously for one common purpose: to activate light sources and call forth images and rhythms”.

In the Chinese aesthetics of traditional landscape painting, a great deal of simplicity lies behind the techniques and concepts where the sole use of black ink on a plain surface can produce a broad spectrum of visual effects. The command of brushwork is of central importance in that tradition. The six variations of “black, white, thick, thin, dry, wet” that offer black ink when mastered after years of practice, can create infinite pictorial possibilities. Chu Teh-Chun already had a skilled grasp of this tradition. This imparted a more fluent quality to the composition and allowed Chu to derive a quality of expression through the use of line that differed from that of Western artists who did not know the meaning of calligraphy. Injecting some of the freehand expression of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy into his works, Chu Teh-Chun's approach to abstraction yields a beautifully flowing and lyrical, yet powerful approach.

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