ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 - 2013) 
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 - 2013) 
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 - 2013) 
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 - 2013) 


ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920 - 2013) 
signed in Chinese, signed ‘ZAO’ (lower right);
signed, titled and dated ‘ZAO WOU-KI 24.5.61’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
100 x 80 cm. (29 1⁄2 x 32 1⁄2 in.)
Painted in 1961
Galerie de France, Paris
The Redfern Gallery, London
Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1968)
Thence by descent to the present owners

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).
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Lot Essay

‘Though the influence of Paris on my career is undeniable, I gradually rediscovered China as my artistic development matured. This is intrinsically expressed in my most recent paintings, where my Chinese cultural background has been expressed as an innate part of myself’ – Zao Wou-Ki, 1961

By the 1950s, shortly after Zao Wou-Ki journeyed to Paris in pursuit of artistic advancement, he had already anchored himself as a key member of the Lyrical Abstraction movement, having works exhibited alongside masters such as Pierre Soulages and Hans Hartung. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Zao truly flourished and developed his highly personalized style that he is known for today, a period that is most sought after within the artist’s oeuvre. Painted in 1961, 24.5.61 is a vibrant, celebratory expression of the artist’s self-discovery. It is a work that truly exemplifies his avant-garde concept of fusing Western techniques with the philosophy and aesthetic of traditional Chinese paintings.

In 24.5.61, Zao fabricates fine and densely interwoven streaks of black and white set against a background of crimson red. Twisting and intersecting like currents of energy, materializing into a nebulous form near the bottom. Along with expansive gestures of black brushwork framing the picture, this generates a strong contrast between positive and negative space, thus, encouraging the viewer to look beyond the infinite horizon. Here, Zao had no intention of filling up the canvas, but chooses to leave the middle plane ‘blank’ in the same spirit as ‘Liubai’ in Chinese traditional painting. By drawing upon Chinese masters before him as inspiration, this painting is reminiscent of ‘Early Spring’ by Song Dynasty master Guo Xi. In like manner, multiple perspectives are utilized in both paintings to give the feeling of gazing at an imposing space from a distance. The composition comprises of repetitive brushwork interwoven with empty spaces, creating an image that moves and breathes with flowing energy. Rather than portraying life as his predecessors did, Zao shakes the image loose of its narrative, allowing the viewers to roam free on their imagination. Although considered an abstract artwork, it transcends time and space and forms a dialogue with Chinese traditional painters such as Guo Xi, consequently enriching and reflecting his Chinese roots deep into his paintings.

Equally significant in the work is Zao’s fluent use of colour relations and vibration of light stemmed from his Western art education. In relation to colour theories of Western abstract art, an example from artist Wassily Kandinsky who deeply believed that when compared with other primal colours such as yellow and blue, the colour red possesses a formidable power. By contrast, Chinese artist colour theory is closely associated with Yin and Yang as well as the five elements. In 24.5.61, red serves a fundamental colour, bearing the weight of black and white while blended in the picture. The juxtaposition of a large red space surrounded by black and white brushwork is symbolic of Yin and Yang, a metaphor of opposing yet complementary qualities in traditional Eastern aesthetics. In addition, the significance of red can be traced back to ancient China. From the oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang Dynasty, to the Yangshao culture that used ground cinnabar to decorate ceramic vessels, cover their interior spaces, as well as possessed symbolic power in the form of colour in ritual ceremonies.

The colours and gestures on the canvas echo the colours and winds of nature, exuding a feeling of vitality and renewal. Appearing for the first time at auction, 24.5.61 is a quintessential artwork by Zao that showcases a perfect amalgamation of elements from Western discourse of abstraction and traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting. In the hands of the artist, he has transformed this into an exuberant imaginary landscape.

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