signed in Chinese, signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed 'ZAO WOU-KI 28.2.67. ne vernis pas' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
89 x 116 cm. (35 x 45 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1967
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Private Collection, France
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, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, France et Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black and white, plate 385, p. 332).
Artcurial, Zao Wou-Ki 1955-1988 (exh. cat.) Paris, France, 1988 (illustrated in black and white, p. 14).
Chateauroux, France, Couvent des Cordeliers, Les Années 50, 1985.
Saint-Nazaire, France, Musée-Galerie de Saint-Nazaire, 1985.
Paris, France, Artcurial, Zao Wou-Ki, 1988.
Metz, France, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Zao Wou-Ki, 1955-1988, 1988-1989.

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

“In Chinese, the word 'landscape' is created from the characters 'shan' and 'shui'-meaning mountains and water. But I prefer the word 'nature', because it calls into being a much broader world: the intersection of multiple spaces in a painting can create something like a universe, in which the wind and the atmosphere can breathe and flow freely.”
-Zao Wou-Ki

28.02.67 (Lot 65) is a beautiful example of Zao Wou-Ki’s work from the 1960s. Here, the tension of the painting originates from the center of the composition to radiate an energic pulse across the composition by juxtaposing long washes of whites and greens with expressively precise brushstrokes of deep brown. One can easily imagine the artist in his studio transposing an emotional gestural show onto the canvas.

The second half of the 1960s represents a painful time for Zao Wou-Ki, as his second wife, May, struggles with fits of depression. Zao stands by her side in full support, preventing him from painting for days in a row. While he had completely rejected the use of ink and calligraphy in his work from his early years in Paris, he gradually came back to integrating elements of ink and calligraphy after his trip to Japan and Hong Kong in 1957. Ink and calligraphy had already been deeply embedded in his practice through the education he had received from his grandfather in China, and he therefore felt he would no longer be challenged by the use of ink. Additionally, he adamantly rejected being classified as a Chinese painter and proved so by working almost exclusively with oils upon his arrival in Paris. However, at the time he paints 28.02.67 the emotional roller-coaster he is going through with May’s illness triggers the need to return to the comfort ink as a medium but also as a method of practice.

His paintings from the 1960s translate a fearless exploration of himself as he consciously draws from his knowledge and skills accumulated until then to create a unique pictorial language. When he arrived in Paris, Zao’s eagerness to see old masters of European painting led him to the Louvre, where he could finally see in the flesh paintings by Delacroix, Ingres, Géricault, Raphaël, and Da Vinci. Works he had previously seen in black and white in old magazines in China finally took on a real dimension, and he could fully appreciate the subtleties in the treatment of oil to create perspective, depth and light on the canvas. Simultaneously, Zao had seamlessly integrated the thriving Parisian art scene around Montparnasse, where he would discover the emerging new codes of artistic creation in the aftermath of World War II.

By 1967, Zao Wou-Ki had already fully matured his artistic expression, creating a pictorial repertoire of what he calls “the invisible”: his abstract landscapes of dreams transport the viewer through wind and light to a harmonious space in-between realities. During his travels to New York ten years earlier, his exposure to the American Abstract Expressionist art scene and his formative encounters with the works of painters such as Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock, release a sense of freedom to challenge the normative boundaries of tradition. This newly found confidence disrupts his previous conceptions of imagery and definitely propels him beyond any cultural identification.

28.02.67 epitomizes the artistic period of the 1960s: using a stark palette of greens, browns, and whites, his unique treatment of paint exemplifies his new-found language at the beginning of the decade. While layered washes of whites and greens horizontally frame the composition on the upper and lower edges, a centrifugal force emerges from the careful, yet quick and confident, application of very diluted brown brushstrokes. Although he is using oil painting here, the influence of traditional painting is undeniable in the treatment of composition: the very light central touches sink into the canvas to create depth, his spontaneous yet controlled calligraphic gesture translates into vibrating strokes fluttering across the surface. Where one sees the calligraphic mountain of a Chinese landscape, the web of strokes suggests a transition from nature into abstraction recalling Mondrian’s early work, and finally the energy concurrently pouring from a focal point through horizontal and diagonal directions directly recalls paintings by Turner.

28.02.67 allows the viewer to witness here a whimsical alliance between positive and negative space, between reality and abstraction, between fullness and void, where elements of traditional Chinese painting, nineteenthcentury paintings, and modern conceptions of abstraction converge into this unique space.

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