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Painting Relief 1 March 1963

Painting Relief 1 March 1963
signed, titled and dated ‘LIN SHOW YU PAINTING RELIEF 1.MARCH.63 50x30’ (on the overlap)
oil and aluminium on canvas
123 x 76.5 cm. (48 3/8 x 30 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1963
Richard Saltoun, London, UK, 2012
Godson & Coles, London, UK, 2013
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

“White reflects all colours, and black absorbs all. With black and white, you encompass all colours, other hues are but noise and symbols.” – Richard Lin

In the early 1960s, the architecturally-trained travelling artist Richard Lin began to translate the philosophy of “less is more” from modernist architecture to the canvas. He broke through the two-dimensional constraints of painting, and afforded the canvas a multidimensional experience, and developed that into the concept of relief paintings. At the same time, he did away with extraneous brushstrokes and ornamental textures, and constructed a meticulous trigonometric order on the canvas, pioneering a ground-breaking architectural language in the history of art. He even introduced the medium of aluminium from modern construction into his works – from the mid- 1960s, Lin experimented obsessively with embedding aluminium pieces onto the two-dimensional canvas, using the material’s metallic texture to deepen the artwork’s dimensionality. This experimentation mainly persisted until the end of the 1960s, when he garnered fame for his signature combination of aluminium and oil paint and rose to stardom. In 1963, his Painting Relief 1 January 1964 was selected for the 3rd Documenta in Kassel, and at the young age of 30, Richard Lin became the first Chinese artist to be admitted to the renowned international exhibition.

Christie’s is proud to present Painting Relief 1 March 1963 , a milestone example of Richard Lin’s Relief Painting style in its formative stage. On the white rectangular canvas, Lin used layers of subtly different shades of white paint to create stacks of rectangles, which are then bisected by different aluminium strips. Under the artist’s careful arrangement, the rectangles build on top of each other and present an intricate and three-dimensional geometric order. Upon close inspection, one finds that each rectangle exists on its own plane on the canvas, as though the canvas itself carries a minimalistic architectural space.

Richard Lin’s breakthrough from the two-dimensional canvas may remind one of another master of minimalism from the 20th century – Lucio Fontana. Both artists are known for their sculpting of the canvas, but the directions of their exploration diverged: Fontana used knives to slash open the canvas and expose the depth underneath the canvas, and broke free from the plane in the process; Lin, on the other hand, chose to build on top of the canvas, using the thickness of aluminium strips and paint to exactly arrange layers on top of the canvas, which affords his paintings a physical dimensionality. Like Fontana, Lin’s works have transcended the limitations of the traditional canvas and expanded what is possible in painting, while creating a multifaceted and multisensory experience that invokes our sight as well as tactile senses on the canvas.

The colour white is another key signature in Lin’s artworks. To the artist, the colour is representative of purity and clarity, it is the colour that encompasses all colours, and it is also the symbol of infinity. Through the colour, the maximalist concept of “one is everything” championed by Eastern philosophers entwine with the notion of “less is more” in Western modernist art. As his art matured with age, white became an even more prominent subject of Lin’s paintings: he delineated the colour into a spectrum of hues, and unearthed infinite possibilities from a single colour. Viewers of Painting Relief 1 March 1963 may notice the five hues and layers of white in the painting – much like the idea of “five colours of ink” in traditional Chinese paintings, the colours of White are equally distinct to Lin. Meanwhile, the black strip of aluminium not only defines spatiality, it also subverts the monopoly of white on the canvas; the duopoly of “black” and “white” and the contrast between “depth” and “plane” greatly enrich the painting, and even though it may appear frigid at first, there is dynamism, subtlety, and enjoyment to be discovered in the rational composition as well.

Upon seeing Lin’s works, the Spanish minimalist master Miro noted that, “In the world of White, you stand peerless”. With his unique language of white and innovations in spatiality and composition, Lin had left an undeniable mark on the history of modern art. As a definitive example of work from the zenith of the artist’s creativity, and thanks to the previous collector’s impeccable caretaking for the last six decades, Painting Relief 1 March 1963 is in excellent condition and a rare find on the auction stand.

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