WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
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WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)

Fuyang, A Riverside City (Village Town)

WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
Fuyang, A Riverside City (Village Town)
signed and dated in Chinese (lower left)
oil on canvas
38 x 45.5 cm. (15 x 17 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1991
Private Collection, Asia
Kuao Fung Publishing House, Who Dances with Silver Hair - Wu Guanzhong exhibition, Taipei, Taiwan, 1992 (illustrated, P. 64).
Hunan Arts Publishing House, The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. III, Changsha, China, 2007 (illustrated, P. 316).
Taipei, Taiwan, Shinkong Mitsukoshi, Who Dances with Silver Hair - Wu Guanzhong Exhibition, July 1992.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“I ought to begin with the landscape of my hometown, as it provides me with a more expansive emotional, philosophical, and formal space. I am determined to cross over a small bridge in my hometown of Jiangnan to venture into my own unknown stylistic realm.”
Wu Guanzhong

“I have painted numerous villages and towns of Jiangnan, all derived from my nostalgia for home.”
Wu Guanzhong

This painting, A Small Town in Jiangnan, was created in 1991, which was the year that Wu Guanzhong destroyed, with intense determination and pain, over 200 paintings that he was displeased with, and the fact that this painting was spared indicates that the artist himself approved of its artistic value, making the painting extremely precious. This painting was first exhibited in 1992, a year after its creation, at Whoever Sees This, Just Watch this Old Man Dance Again , a solo exhibition co-organized by Soobin Art International in Singapore and Ke Shan Gallery in Taipei.

Wu began exploring the idea of modernizing landscape ink painting in the mid-1970s. He replicated many artworks by Chinese masters when he was a student, and was particular fond of Shi Tao. Shi advocated the idea of “borrowing from the past to create new perspectives today” and thought that “ink art should grow with the time”, which was why Wu regarded Shi as the most progressive thinker in the history of Chinese painting. During Wu’s time in Paris, he was also enlightened by Expressionism from seeing artworks by artists such as August Macke. By the 1990s, Wu had already fused together figurative and abstract languages, with a great level of artistic maturity demonstrated by the artist. Wu once said that, “I’ve painted Jiangnan all my life”, with Jiangnan serving not only as his hometown but also his creative muse. The creative motif in the West has shifted to life in urban areas since the 19th century, and deeply influenced by Western philosophy of art, Wu began to concentrate on the ordinary sceneries and elements in his own land. A Small Town in Jiangnan is reminiscent of the closely juxtaposed buildings in Along the River During the Qingming Festival, filling traditional Chinese painting’s gap with the representation of everyday township culture. Jiangnan’s picturesque landscape and colour palette not only marked the beginning of Wu’s journey in art, but also led to the development of his innovative expressive approach with “using oil to express ink aesthetics”, creating artworks of ethereal and fluid quintessence and also impregnated with intense and rich colours. Wu used the term “amphibious” to describe his art journey with ink and oil, stating that, “A small path and a gentle stream run in parallel heading towards the distance. When the oil exhausts, I switch to ink, and when the ink depletes, I turn back to climb up the slope with oil pigments.” With this approach, Wu was able to depict similar views of Jiangnan in different, alternative forms, sparking dialogues between ink and oil, with penetrative impacts formed.

A Small Town in Jiangnan is, therefore, unique because of its amalgamation of Eastern abstract concept and Western oil painting techniques, but it also breaks free from Western abstract traditions. Chinese ink painting’s sense of realism comes from the relationship between and the assemblage of visual elements, with everything required to create a world made possible through the artist’s conscious arrangement of hooks, creases, rubbing, dyeing, and points. The audience’s imagination and realistic experience are linked together by Wu’s stylized, simplified semi-figurative language; the viewers could use their own visual perception to fill in the omitted facets in this image composed with shapes, colours, points, lines, and planes, ultimately leading to the formation of a landscape. A Small Town in Jiangnan is stripped of outlines of objects, with tender sprouts and shoots and passersby represented with points of colours; tree branches linearly depicted; and Jiangnan’s iconic rooftops expressed with big swipes of planes. The points of colours in the painting could denote pedestrians or tender leaves, and the tree branches could either be wilted or lush. Open for interpretation, the image could either be set in the season of luscious blooms or blanketed under layers of thick, white snow. Moreover, compared with Western art’s mainstream development based on linear perspective, Chinese ink painting is more customary with using the relationship of scale between sceneries and objects and wash effects to display different sense of distance. It becomes apparent when compared with Eulogies of Zhou: Temple Ceremonies, a handscroll by Ma Hezhi of Northern Song dynasty, the traditional composition with stacking various layers of rooftops or mountain ridges is borrowed by Wu to create a depth of field. The branches slicing in from the bottom right corner also help to guide the audience’s line of sight towards the centre of the image.

This notable feature that “forms a landscape from afar and appears in abstraction up-close” is commonly associated with impressionist or pointillist artists, such as Camille Pissarro. Compared with Western painting theory’s understanding for light, the Chinese has discovered that a myriad of effects could be achieved with deconstructed and reassembled shapes and forms created by fully utilizing the inkbrush. However, ink painting lacks the crucial element of intense and vibrant colours found in oil painting. Bearing this in mind, Wu opted with a more challenging route by borrowing Chinese painting’s approach to composition and inheriting its tradition of being formless. He also chose to acquire oil painting skills and transformed them into his own unique art language, leading to a never-before-seen, unprecedented way of depicting landscape.

“The strength of Chinese painting lies in its lines, with planes and colours its weaknesses, and what I have done is explored the relationship between them.” Wu was determined to find a way to communicate and transcribe the two different cultures that the two painting media are positioned in, and he blended together Chinese ambiance and Western visual imagery. Through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, the aesthetics of abstraction and quintessence are expressed. Forming images of Eastern essence, with the aesthetics of form in landscape explored, Wu flawlessly transformed Western art’s abstract aesthetic into Eastern tradition’s lyrical aesthetic.

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