ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 – 2013)
signed in Chinese, signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed ‘ZAO Wou-Ki', titled and dated '16.2.64.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
65 x 81 cm. (25 5/8 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1964
Private collection, USA
Christie’s Hong Kong, 28 May 2017, lot 365
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, documentation by Françoise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated, plate 112, p. 162).
Y. Bonnefoy & G. de Cortanze, Zao Wou-Ki, La Différence / Enrico Navarra, Paris, 1998 (illustrated, p. 128).
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki, dated 15 June 2017.

This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).

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Ziwei Yi
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Lot Essay

In 1959, Zao Wou-Ki bought a warehouse in Paris to convert into a working studio, completing renovations in 1963. The studio was designed as an isolated structure, with no windows opening to the outside; light entered instead through a glass roof. Zao believed such a space would provide a solitary working environment where he could avoid any contact with the real world just outside — a kind of hidden chamber for meditation where he would not be disturbed. He hoped to distance himself from the mundane world, even from the influence of natural images, to create new possibilities by pouring his mind and heart out onto the canvas.

16.02.64 (Lot 112) dates from 1964, a time when Zao Wou-Ki had already lived in France for 20 years and was well-versed in the concepts and techniques of Western art. But long exploration of his own cultural roots also led, in 16.02.64, to a harmonious and successful melding of Eastern and Western elements.

Zao's principal palette in 16.02.64 consists of only three colours: ruddy brown, inky black, and beige white. Various gradations and hues, derived from combinations of these colours, mix and overlap, spilling out onto the canvas to create a space full of tumultuous color and action. The visual layering that results from these pigments, alternately thick and thin or heavy and light, offers a perfect illustration of the 'less is more' outlook. Similarly, in the Chinese aesthetic tradition, a great deal of simplicity and symbolism lies behind the techniques and concepts where 'ink itself is a color.' Brushwork is of central importance in that tradition. Deriving from simple black ink the six variations of 'black, white, thick, thin, dry, and wet' poses a challenge even to painters with refined technical skills, and when successful, they can create a deep visual harmony. Zao Wou-Ki already had a skilled grasp of this tradition. He reflected it in his work not merely in the choice of pigments from a narrow range of colours, but also in his varied handling of closely related hues and his great range of brushwork techniques. With these he produced rich, clear, pellucid spatial structures and landscape conceptions of great breadth and depth.

Regarding the spatial presentation, in 16.02.64, Zao inherited the legacy of the Chinese painting masters who came before, borrowing the 'scattered' or multiple-point perspective from traditional Chinese painting. The colours of rubby brown, white, and black interlace in the foreground in delicate lines and rough stokes. Behind them, the broad background stretches away, pulling the viewer into a deep and transcendental realm and expanding the infinite possibilities of the space. While the visible dimensions of the canvas might seem to limit such a space, its depth and distances appear immeasurable, an effect arising not just from the contrasts of solid form and empty space, of foreground and distance, but also from the juxtaposition of dynamic lines with tranquil, motionless spaces, reflecting what Zao once said, 'In Chinese painting, solid forms and empty spaces have a rhythm, constantly in motion as each pushes at the other, giving the pictorial space a wonderful balance between lightness and weight. If you say my painting is different from most Western painters, it probably has to do with my concepts of handling space.'

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