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


ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
signed in Chinese and signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'ZAO Wou-Ki 27.8.84 95 x 105 cm pour Imelda Fayt Amicalement', signed again in Chinese and signed 'ZAO' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
95 x 105 cm. (37 3/8 x 41 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1984
Collection of Imelda Fayt, Belgium
Ravenel Taipei, 3 December 2006, lot 44
Private collection, Asia
JSL Auction Taipei, 16 December 2007, lot 47
Private collection, Asia
Ravenel Hong Kong, 28 May 2012, lot 34
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Zao Wou-Ki on 7 November 2004.

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).
Sale room notice
Please note the correct size for Lot 77 is 95 x 105 cm. (37 3/8 x 41 3/8 in.), which is listed on, and not as stated in the digital catalogue.
拍品編號77的正確尺寸為95 x 105 cm. (37 3/8 x 41 3/8 in.),正確尺寸應爲佳士得網頁所示,並非拍賣圖錄所述。

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Lot Essay

The essence of 27.8.84 is emblematic of Zao Wou-Ki’s stylistic maturity in abstraction and international acclaim during the 1980s. Concurrently, momentous changes occurred in Zao’s personal life transitioning from the 1970s to the 1980s, with the passing of his second wife, May, in 1972 and eventual visit to China. The expressive traces on his canvases were vessels of his experiences, leaving us hints about his state of mind and thus what inspired the transformation of his visual vocabulary. In 27.8.84, poetic yet strong brushstrokes of incandescent white lightly prevail above a ground of majestic ink-wash-like deep blues, at once reminiscent of the artist’s structural composition from the 1960s and Chinese ink sensibility from the 1970s onwards.

Predicated upon the stylistic transformations from his Hurricane and Infinity Periods, the painting combines and refines the key elements from these two significant periods in Zao’s artistic career. 27.8.84 adopts the dynamic structural composition that defines Zao’s works from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. During this period, Zao had developed a lyrical and abstract painting language that often display colours filling the canvas and spontaneously coalescing towards the centre, leaving a vertical or horizontal linear structure. Similarly, in 27.8.84, the pearly white swatches of paint with black and yellowish rugged textures layered above dance horizontally across the canvas, while deep, musky blues with swashes of muted ochre envelop the rest of the canvas, creating a harmonious three-layered composition. Mastering the control of negative and positive space, the linearity in 27.8.84 is unique to Zao's abstract practice.

27.8.84 epitomises Zao’s return to ink. Following a short period of hiatus and grief after his second wife May’s passing in 1972, Zao returned to China several times during the 1970s and early 1980s, rekindling his relationship with his cultural roots and sparking a return to explore the ink medium. From imitations of elemental forces to the command of tonal depth and light, such metaphysical features were distinctive of Zao’s works from the 1980s. Riddled with transcendental qualities of Chinese ink, the gestural brushwork in 27.8.84 seemingly orchestrates a majestic symphony–one that is powerful yet light, without the turbulence and chaos seen in his earlier works. The glowing white poignantly evokes the image of snowy mountain caps; the deep, rich blues are like thick mist that mystically submerge mountainous ranges, amounting to vast space across the canvas that recalls Chinese landscape paintings and its calligraphic space. With more distinct figuration emerging on his canvas, 27.8.84 departs from the ‘most abstractly clear and free’ paintings from his Hurricane Period. As Zao said in an interview in 1975, ‘for me [calligraphy] is figurative; those are words and they have meaning’ (W. Zao, quoted in No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat. Asia Society Museum and Colby College Museum of Art, New York, 2016, p. 28). Figure and ground therefore amass into a poetic abstraction of landscape, transposing reality into a cosmic realm.

The choice of the colour blue for the ground is significant for the painting. In Western art history, blue is widely perceived—and understood—as one of the three primary colours attributed to the iconography of the Virgin Mary. Blue is therefore analogous to purity and devotional sacredness, particularly in Catholic, religious settings. As with Chinese culture, blue has purifying qualities, alluding to elemental water or sky. Like the classical scholar-official from imperial China, Zao was well-versed in literature and philosophies and mastered ink and brush since an early age. The mass of blues in the painting cultivates a spiritual ambience, with the abstracted landscape elevating the sense of philosophical tranquillity. The Asian art market likewise favours Zao’s works that are saturated in blues, including 29.09.64 which is currently recoded as the second highest price realised for the artist and many others fetched hundred-millions, most of which were painted between the 1950s and 1960s. 27.8.84 is thus a rare example with overwhelming blues from the 1980s.

By the 1980s, Zao has established an unshakeable position as a great master. From his solo exhibition at the Grand Palais National Galleries in Paris held in 1981 to several monographic exhibitions held between 1980-1983 at prestigious institutions including Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi, Belgium and the National Museum of History an Art in Luxembourg, Zao’s name echoed across Europe. Simultaneously, major solo exhibitions were held for the artist in his homeland, China, for the first time and the surrounding Asian region including Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. With expanded international recognition and activities, Zao was in his sixties by this time, wherein 27.8.84 is an emblematic reflection of the artistic confidence he has attained.

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