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signed in Chinese and signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed 'ZAO WOU-Ki', dated and titled '5.4.63' and inscribed '50 x 46' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
46 x 50 cm. (18 1/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Collection of Morgan Knott, Dallas, Texas, USA, 1965
Collection of Mrs. Walter Pharr, Dallas, Texas, USA
Gifted to the previous owner from the above collection
Anon. sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 24 November 2012, Lot 1
Private Collection, Asia
This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black and white, plate 310, p. 286).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated in black and white, plate 310, p. 286).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, France et Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelone, Espagne, 1986 (illustrated in black and white, plate 342, p. 326).

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Lot Essay

"I paint in broad strokes, sometimes with a scraper even, like I am squeezing the canvas with my life to let colours seep into it. Amidst the cacophony of colours and overlapping crisscrossing strokes, I feel at home. Back then, I had not experienced the difficulty of presenting nothingness through painting; rather than silence, I veer towards fervour and noise. My heart was set on triumphing over the canvas" – Excerpt from Zao Wou-Ki's Self Portrait, p.138

Yann Hendgen commented many of Zao's works from the 60s that "rather than describing what's shown as a whirlwind, we can think of them as the author's search between the clashes between air masses – the masses are sometimes dense, sometimes dispersed… what comes through is the great tension that is hidden within the heart." 05.04.63 (Lot 407) is an epitome of that, seemingly bringing to light Su Shi's grand sense of "boulders soaring above the skies, deluge slapping at the shores, stirring a thousand heaps of snow". The intensity within the painting starts with the olive green and charcoal black at the lower left corner, transforming into the quick brushes and scrapes down centre, like a tempest spiralling up from the water's surface, getting ready to erupt, not unlike the powerful and steely brushstrokes in Ma Yuan's Singing and Dancing. The artist mainly relied on different strokes of black and white oil paints to develop layers in the centre of the scene, with clean lines that are sometimes powerful and sometimes delicate, and angles of attack that are innumerable. Gazing towards the top centre of the frame, one notes the breaking waves that are seemingly lifted by the tornado, transient and fleeting, showing how the artist managed to use oil paint to create the sense of unbound serenity in Liang Kai's Lying in a Boat and Playing the Flute by the Willow, using Western media to achieve Eastern art's uniquely expansive aesthetic effect.

05.04.63 is also notable for its treatment of space, which at a glance gives one a sense of "one river, two banks". The "one river, two banks" style was invented by Dong Yuan, and usually feature a clean and clear composition with flat ground or low hills and a handful of tall trees in the foreground, sometimes punctuated by a pavilion or hut; in the middle distance one usually finds a broad expanse of calm waters, and in the distance sit rolling mountains. Zao took that compositional idea from traditional Chinese landscape paintings, and moved beyond Dong Yuan's "one river, two banks" as seen in his Xiao Xiang Landscape by presenting a bare foreground and distant scene, but with a centre that is riled and stormy. This arrangement of lightness and weightiness in space can also be seen in Joseph Turner's A Tempest: ships at the centre of the storm are the primary subjects, and the tension that follow from them extend to the waves and the sky, with the pressure easing off at the top and bottom, creating definite order and structure on the canvas. This composition with a tranquil top and bottom and an intense centre inherits the Multi-Point Perspective from Zao's work in the 1950s, and gives rise to the sweeping wide views of his 1970s creations, thus marking an important milestone in his search for "space". While the ivory background at the top and the lower right of the canvas seems empty, nuanced colours are actually hidden within. Remarkably, the few white strokes that sit atop the black paint at the centre of 05.04.63 brighten the scene and create clear progressive layers, making the work's focus shine with clarity. This can be compared with William Mactaggart's brilliant organisation and use of contrast The Storm. In light of the above, one begins to appreciate Zao's ingenuous arrangement of colour and space down to every last stroke and every last square inch; there is an end to these words, but not to their message.

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