Traces of Nature No. 3

Traces of Nature No. 3
signed in Chinese (lower right)
oil on canvas
each: 128 x 200 cm. (50 3/8 x 78 3/4 in.) (2)
overall: 256 x 200 cm. (100 3/4 x 50 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2004
Anon. sale, Christies' Hong Kong, 27 May, 2007, Lot 0219
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Yan Gallery, Wang Huai Qing- Traces of Nature, Hong Kong, China, 2005, (illustrated, p. 22-25)
Seattle Art Museum, Wang Huaiqing- A Painter’s Painter in Contemporary China, Seattle, USA, 2010, (illustrated, p. 241)
Hong Kong, China, Yan Gallery, WANG HUAI QING - Traces of Nature, August 2005.
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Museum Art, Art of Wang Huai Qing, 2007
Guangdong, China, Guangdong Museum of Art, Art of Wang Huai Qing, 2008

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

"Wang Huaiqing's structures are not governed by any single form, because the soul of our nation, and the mind of an artist such as Shi Tao, all provide clues as to the directions he is exploring....He has endeavoured to find the menacing power of black, to stress the interweaving of black and white, to discover how to present textures, and how to create a soundless but well-ordered space for life, all to nurture his sense of childlike innocence."
- Wu Guanzhong

Wang Huaiqing was born in Beijing in 1944 and received professional training from an early age, progressing from the affiliated high school of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts to the Academy itself, and then to graduate school. He was especially influenced during that period by Wu Guanzhong, who advocated the union of Eastern and Western art and the development of art with Chinese characteristics. During the '80s Wang began to move away from figuration, and through the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of traditional wood-built homes and furniture (ii), developed a highly personal artistic style. At this season's Evening Sale, Christie's presents a grand, major work by Wang Huaiqing, his Traces of Nature III (Lot 76). This work amply displays the artist's use of a highly concentrated and contemporary vocabulary, through which he gives us a work that is dignified and reserved, and reflective of China's traditional artistic cultivation and spirit.


As a youth Wang traveled to China's Shaoxing and became fascinated with its unique buildings, with their white walls and black roof tiles, and the simple elegance of their wooden furnishings. In Traces of Nature III, the backbone of the composition is Wang's arrangement of vertical and horizontal black lines of varying lengths and thicknesses, interspersed with pigment spots strewn across the pictorial space. Traces seems to contain no figurative elements at all, yet viewers can hardly avoid thinking of the old houses around the canals in Shaoxing, with their mottled, archaic white walls and their slanting roof beams and supporting pillars. Wang's methods of expression differ from those of the Suprematists in the early 20th century in the West, who emphasized geometrical figures (circles, squares, lines) and especially stressed the use of limited, concentrated color. Among them, Kazimir Malevich similarly structured his canvases with circles and blocks of color, creating vivid, integrated geometrical designs to prove that art could exist apart from specific figurative subjects, that it could simply be art for art's sake (Fig. 1). However, it is possible to sense something more in Wang Huaiqing's art, a pure expression of the mood of the traditional Eastern scholar class. The motifs on his canvas arise for a reason, as he disassembles traditional Chinese architecture and Ming furniture, studying how to reinterpret China's ancient culture in the simplest and most powerful manner. The famous art critic Michael Sullivan praised Wang's work, noting that it was unique for 'combining this kind of appreciation of people, including his own personal nature and his insight into the meaning of being Chinese.'(iii)


The name of this work derives from a kind of encyclopedia first published during the Ming Dynasty: Traces of Nature. Written by a scientist of the time, Song Yingxing, it was the first comprehensive study in ancient China, and indeed in the world, related to agricultural and handicraft production. Based on his on-site observations and studies, Song attempted to provide a systematic summary of the various ancient technologies of China, in a comprehensive scientific and technological system. From today's point of view, Traces of Nature was more than just an academic breakthrough; from the broadest standpoint possible, it served even more as a powerful spur to a nation whose imperial examination system, and perhaps even its culture, had become ossified. Wang Huaiqing also seems hopeful of escaping the bonds of tradition, as he experiments with the creation of a new artistic outlook on the foundation of his own old culture. On this large-scale canvas, we see only that the artist has employed broad black lines to establish blocks in vertical, horizontal, and bending and folding shapes, suggesting a strength that will bend but not break or give in under pressure. Those thick lines suggest both the heavy beams and pillars of traditional dwellings, and at the same time, Chinese ink-and-brush calligraphy (Fig. 2). Wang's palette, based around a single shade of inky black, establishes a solemn, dignified, and peaceful ambience as he sets out his subject in just a few strokes, reminiscent of the calligraphy on carved stone steles. And there are many subtle touches in the textured base: The spots interspersed around the canvas balance the weighty vibrancy of the black lines, while in several places, rubbed brushstrokes like the textural strokes in Chinese ink paintings (Fig. 3) suggest stains or marks left on ancient walls, imbuing the work with an extra sense of history.


Wang eschews a three-dimensional approach to depicting the relationship between his subject and the surrounding spaces in Traces of Nature III, instead using 'planar' techniques to guide the viewer through his architectural space. Wang explained his choice this way: 'I spent many years of study learning how to present things in a three-dimensional manner, but now I've also put a great effort into making things seem flat and compressing them. I have only one goal in this: Objects that spread out on a flat surface have a much more powerful effect.' (iv)China's traditional architecture and classic furniture is famous the world over for its precise and strong mortise and-tenon construction. Nails are not needed since each piece is perfectly embedded within the others. Wang, however, deliberately depicts the sometimes curved or slanted shapes of the pole pieces and the slight gaps where they meet, 'creating by this means a "flawed joint" (v) where mortise and tenon are imperfectly matched.' The result is the slightest sense of visual instability that only adds to the work's rich sense of layering. Two Western abstract painters, Pierre Soulages and Hans Hartung, similarly created geometric compositions, but with structures that differed from Wang's; Soulages employed heavy, murky colors in combination with heavy black brushstrokes, exploring the relationship between light and space (Fig. 4), while Hartung drew upon beautifully presented textures to express the effects of contrasting light and shadow (Fig. 5).

Wang once summed up his work by saying, 'What I do even more is to paint a kind of spiritual space, an emotional space, rather than painting furniture or houses. My paintings are not still lifes, nor are they scenic paintings.' Clearly, Wang Huaiqing's works are not depictions of architectural space; instead, they depict spaces for living, spaces for the spirit and for the soul.

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