CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN.' (lower right); signed, dated and titled 'Chu Teh-Chun 1959 Calme' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
110 x 102.5 cm. (43 1/4 x 40 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1959
Galerie Henriette Legendre, Paris, France.
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 26 November 2006, Lot 197
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Dimension Art Center, Chu Teh-Chun Taipei, Taiwan, 1993 (illustrated). The Ueno Royal Museum &Thin Chang Corporation, Solo Exhibition of Chu Teh-Chun, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 105).
National Museum of History & Thin Chang Corporation, Chu Teh-Chun 88 Retrospective, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008 (illustrated, p. 92).
Taipei, Taiwan, Dimension Art Center, Chu Teh-Chun, 11 December 1993 -2 January 1994.

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Lot Essay

The existence of lines is absolutely necessary to the art of painting. Lines construct the image of the painting as a whole and embody important traces of the artist's conception. In the work presented here, Calme (Lot 54), Chu Teh-Chun employs refreshingly lively brushwork that alternates between urgency and repose, between heavy and light, exploring with abandon the relationship between lines and the structure of his spaces. Chu's scurrying, interweaving points, lines, and blocks of colour bring to the pictorial space a deeply poetic and musical quality. The artist also exhibits a superior ability to control this space with aesthetic elements borrowed from Chinese ink-wash painting, in the form of its points, lines, and planes. His lines weave together to form a dynamic yet harmonious whole, and his brushwork informs this wonderful conception with an intensely rhythmic feeling and sense of vitality.

Chu Teh-Chun has been categorized as an abstract artist, but compared with Western artists, his abstract lines retain a distinctly Eastern character. In Nicolas de Stael's Barrier (Fig. 1), for example, thick black slanted lines turn sharply back on each other to become the focus of his canvas, producing a strong sense of conflict along with the short, flat lines of colour painted in between them. While de Stael applies strong thick lines with a palette knife, Chu chooses free-flowing brushwork that incorporates the techniques of Chinese calligraphy, with strokes that range from light to heavy and from briskly energetic to relaxed. This imparts a more fluent quality to the composition, and allows Chu to derive a quality of expression through the use of line that differs from that of Western artists. At the same time, he embellishes these flowing lines with blocks of lively colour that mitigate any sharpness or aggressiveness and give the work the added softness and elegance that characterize it.

Another Western artist known for expressive line was Hans Hartung, who held that lines were geometric shapes automatically produced by subconscious guidance. For that reason his work emphasized the presence of the artist's hand in its movements and gestures, and through line itself he established surreal, imagistic spaces. In Ohne Titel, from 1949 (Fig. 2), we can see how Hartung's theories were realized. But while Hartung's brushwork embodies a sense of movement, it goes no further, and it lacks the brush techniques that Chu learned from Chinese calligraphy. These techniques show in his beautifully formed dots, turning strokes, and diagonal downward strokes. Chu also reinterprets, as part of his modern painting vocabulary, the notion that 'painting and calligraphy derive from the same source,' and his painting takes on an extra note of Eastern philosophy and Zen meaning through the influence of his interlocking calligraphic lines. It has been said that 'the idea exists before the brush,' and the idea informs the painting; Chu Teh-Chun here uses his sense of line to create an ingeniously moulded concept of space.

Chu Teh-Chun's efforts to meld the techniques of Eastern and Western art achieved even greater maturity in his later periods. In this Untitled, Chu imparts dynamism to his canvas through a combination of geometric lines and flat areas of colour. The diversely layered dots and areas of flat colour interspersed among his lines heighten the contrast between the energy of the lines and the stillness of the colours. But neither clashes with the other, and together they produce a beautiful symphony of harmonious energy. Within the depth of his pictorial space, Chu takes advantage of the intense contrasts between hues and between dark and light areas to impart a sense of space that pervades the entire work. Chu said, '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.' Through his non-geometric abstract pictorial space, Chu conveys his direct, intuitive understanding of the essence of the real world, while the flowing movements of his brush and colours mirror his own deep inner sense of peace. This kind of art combines the rationality of 'cold' abstraction, the emotion of 'hot' abstraction, and the lyrical qualities of Chinese abstraction. Chu Teh-Chun takes the hidden energies of life and his artistic experience and transforms them into a highly personal statement, a pure artistic vocabulary.

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