'A light breeze blows the thin grass on the shore
Where the tall mast of a boat stands alone.
Stars hang above the wide open fields
While the moon floats on the surge of the river.
Have my writings brought me fame?
This old sick man should retire from his post.
But here I am, adrift; I am just like
A lone gull between the heavens and the Earth.'
Lodging for the Night --Dufu
In 1955, taking all the money he had earned from sales of his paintings, Chu Teh-Chun set out from Taiwan aboard 'The Vietnam,' the ship that would carry him toward his dreams. Between the net of stars cast across the sky above and the moonlight pouring down on the waters, his heart was full of artistic zeal and determination as he headed for France. Restless and excited, he felt small and insignificant with the great ocean surrounding him. Only five years after setting foot in France, Chu Teh-Chun's artistic career was already blooming in Paris, the 'City of Flowers.'
Chu completed his Eaux Profondes No. 63 (Lot 56) in 1960, a watershed year for his career since leaving Taiwan for France. He had begun painting abstract works earlier, in 1956, and by 1960 his outstanding talent and his sensitive observation of the world around him were illustrated in his works. That year, not only was he invited to exhibit his work in the Ecole de Paris, the exhibition aimed at promoting abstract art; he also held a solo show under the auspices of the Galerie Legendre, which particularly favoured abstract artists. These special honours helped propel him toward the first high point of his artistic career. At the same time, his proficiency in terms of techniques and methods established his creativity on a solid foundation, which would allow him to reach even higher summits of achievement unequalled by later artists.
In his 1960 Eaux Profondes No. 63, Chu draws upon essential aspects of both Eastern and Western philosophy to create a powerful and expansive abstract work. Transcending the limitations of abstraction, Chu produces a work of great breadth, one that is founded in the methods of calligraphy but which still achieves depth as a major painting. The work is dominated and united by the relatively deep, heavy, and pure tones of inky black in Chu's almost monochromatic palette. The spread of blackish haloes and the variations in their depth and density conjure a rich visual world with a strong rhythmic feel. Western painters of the 1950s, in fact, were strongly influenced by the quality of lines in Chinese calligraphy, which led them to produce a series of experiments chiefly inspired by such black lines. Franz Kline was one of the main proponents of this trend (Fig. 1). What distinguished Chu Teh-Chun, however, was that as a person of Eastern origin, his lines were scarcely typical painterly lines of an artist, but were also deeply informed with the calligraphic quality of Chinese characters and their philosophy. Along with the lines, the viewer's eye is attracted by the rectangles of blue that seem to dance and float among them. This combination highlights the artistry inherent in using all the possible shadings of black ('the five colors of black' referred to in Chinese ink-wash painting), and it gives expression to the kind of layering and fascinating compositions made possible by the criss-crossing of vertical and horizontal lines of inky black colour. In the abstract works of Western painters, geometric elements such as rectangles, lines, and blocks of colour often become vehicles for building their expressive vocabulary (Fig. 2). But it was only Chu Teh-Chun who could take the two basic abstract elements of lines and geometric figures and use them to directly explore the meaning of nature. He is fully capable of embodying his philosophical quest for the source of creation within a work such as the present lot.
Chu Teh-Chun's works primarily explore scenes of beauty in nature and the energies of the universe, unlike Western art and its abstract expression of inner scenery (Fig. 3). He expressed himself from the heart, and allowed himself full freedom to roam between the worlds of Western abstract art and the graceful lyricism of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Perhaps in Eaux Profondes No. 63 we find Chu thinking back five years earlier, riding atop the broad blue seas, while in his heart he harboured the desire and determination to change the world of art.