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WU GUANZHONG
(Chinese, 1919-2010)
A Sleepless City
signed and dated '1999' in Chinese (lower left)
ink and colour on paper
60 x 48 cm. (23 5/8 x 18 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1999
two seals of the artist
Literature
Hunan Art Publishing House, Emotion, Originality - Ink Oeuvre of Wu Guanzhong, Changsha, China, 2004 (illustrated).
Shanghai Hua Bao Publishing Co., Cai Mian Chao Tian: Wu Guanzhong's World, Shanghai, China, 2005 (illustrated, p. 233).
Shan Dong Hua Bao Publishing Co., Hua Wai Yin: Wu Guanzhong, Shan Dong, China, 2005 (illustrated, p. 197).
Shui, Tianzhong, eds. The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, vol. 8, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Hunan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 131).
Jiangxi Art Publishing Co., Wu Guanzhong - Volume 2, Beijing, China, 2009 (illustrated, p. 288).
Exhibited
Beijing, China, National Art Museum of China, The 1999 Exhibition of Wu Guanzhong Art, 1999.
Paris, France, UNESCO, Emotion, Originality - Ink Oeuvre of Wu Guanzhong, June 2004.
Beijing, China, National Art Museum of China, Emotion, Originality - Ink Oeuvre of Wu Guanzhong, July 2004.

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Marcello Kwan
Marcello Kwan Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art Department (Hong Kong)

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Lot Essay

Marrying Chinese ink painting with oil painting has defined much of Wu Guanzhong's artistic career. Wu has described himself as a "half-breed" in jest when asked about his craft. When he was well into the prime of his artistic journey, Wu had long mastered the skill of capturing the essence and spirituality of Chinese culture with oil painting techniques. His mastery is perfectly encapsulated in A Sleepless City, an ink and colour on paper executed in 1999.

Large sweeps of pastels fill the background: Wu went easy on the lavender purple in the skies and ash gray of the skyscrapers to ensure a touch of translucence. The heart of the painting is purposefully left in blank to accentuate its visual depth. It acts as a transition between the base and the burst of colours occupying the center of the piece. The blocks of colour were layered carefully only until the primer was semi-dry. Wu expertly applied burnt orange, baby pink, canary yellow, electric purple and lawn green with linear techniques, axe-cut strokes, and ink layering with sporadic dots to create an impression of effervescence: the arrangement offers a glimpse of hope in the dark. Also, in shockingly bodacious strokes, Wu dabbed generous drops of black - the application was powerful yet smart, practiced yet strong - they give the painting its structural definition. The lines and the colours leap and burst across the painting in a graceful tango. The ink, as a result, has seamlessly blended into the piece, bearing a compelling testimony to Wu's deeply ingrained cultural awareness and insight. Ink variation, application pressure and density are the soul of Chinese paintings. The presentation of the ink's wash and flow, in particular, is mesmerising. Compared with Chu Teh-Chun's powerful and unrestrained brushstroke, Wu is more adept in accenting the cohesion between patterns with the tip of the brush, giving his work a graceful finish.

In Wu Guanzhong: Selected Ink Paintings, Wu said in the preface that "I went on an exodus to capture my innermost feelings; then it dawned on me that aesthetics in our everyday life are the Holy Grail I have been looking for in the past decades." In his art, Wu marries the spiritual lyricism of the East with abstract aesthetics of the West: there is a hint of innovation in abstraction, and a trace of substance minus the figurative. The city in the piece is void of any racket or superficiality. It is sincere, the warmth and beauty quietly glimmering in the painting's simplicity.

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