(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-Ki ZAO' in Chinese & Pinyin; dated '66' (lower right)
oil on canvas
diameter 55 cm. (21 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1966
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Private Collection, Europe
Private Collection, Asia
Jean Leymarie, Ediciones Poligrafa, Documentation by Fran?oise Marquet, Zao Wou-Ki, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black & white, plate 351, p. 292).
New Age Gallery, Past, Present, Future: Twenty-Year Review of New Age Gallery, Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, pp. 82-83).
Paris, France, Galerie de France, Zao Wou-Ki Solo Exhibition, 1967.

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Lot Essay

7.11.66 Journey and Return in a Flowing Landscape

Zao Wou-ki's first experiment with circular paintings took place in 1966. Current documentary evidence indicates he produced no further such works after that year, so that only four such works are extant, the 7.11.66 (Lot 2003) presented here being among those four. Paintings in circular form have appeared in the history of art in both East and West, but whereas those of the Western Renaissance period, known as tondos, usually depicted religious themes, the circle in the East has suggested different concepts. Appearing in landscapes painted on circular fans and in the circular windows of Eastern gardens, the circle, which has neither a beginning nor and end point, symbolized the "unlimited" and "inexhaustible." In traditional culture it stood for "Tai Chi," the supreme ultimate state in which the primordial universe embraced the movement of all things. It also represented worship of the sun, which contained the spiritual energies of the natural universe. The circle therefore stood for the unceasing renewal of life and the self-sufficient nature of the universe.

Zao Wou-ki's choice of a circular composition suggests the ways in which the artist's ideas about form and shape at this time were undergoing innovation and change. The energy of a circle expands outward equally in all directions, seeking fullness and completed meaning, while its interior has a great capacity to hold, contain and expand. In vertical or horizontal scroll paintings, the unequal length of their sides creates directional tension, whereas the circular painting brings a centralized focus to the inner part of its picture space. There, it is the subjective handling of formal elements that creates drama and tension, and the absence of a rectangular frame to cancel the composition's expansion leads to impressive compositional structures that can be difficult to achieve in other forms. Zao utilizes these non-directional features to capture the rhythmically changing shapes seen in 7.11.66, allowing a richer expression of the emotional impulses of the work. Dividing the picture space almost evenly into top and bottom halves, Zao spreads broad, lateral strokes of soft, powdery white across the upper section, while in the lower segment, complex interwoven brushstrokes in burnt sienna mix with contrasting areas of diluted Turkish blue to suggest the reflection of light from a dark surface. Beyond the intense colors and contrasting light and shadow of this area, the foreground's vigorous line and detail create effects similar to the "chapped" textural strokes that grace traditional Chinese landscape paintings. The solidity of these strokes, set against a background as hazy as mists swirling among mountain peaks, creates what seems an image from a Li Bai poem: "The land stretches to the vastness of the sea, and the sky is reflected in the river's emptiness." In 7.11.66, there is no sharp delineation between the upper and lower parts of the canvas; instead, the drip and spread of pigments at their meeting creates a zone of vagueness, where slanting lines and planes intersect and tug at each other, and the originally stable circular form takes on a more unstable and dynamic feel. The surging lines and clashing, overlapping planes in the midst of this dynamic help lead the viewer's eye in a recurring cyclical journey along the painting's circumference. In art critic Zong Baihua's Yi Jing ("Conceptions in Art"), he says, "Chinese people tend to see the unlimited within the limited, but from the unlimited they return again to limits. The appeal of this lies, then, not in a journey without return, but in the sense of cyclical progression." Traditional Chinese landscapes did not depict objective scenes as they appeared at any one moment, from one point of view, but used multiple points of perspective to communicate the rising and falling rhythms of the landscape and a flowing sense of space. The circular composition of 7.11.66 recreates imagery from the Yi Jing, or Book of Changes, where it says that "there is no going without a return, and the heavens and the earth establish their limits." The connections at every point in 7.11.66 between inner perceptions and outer formal elements show how the work is enriched by traditional Chinese aesthetics and spatial awareness, elements which helped further Zao's explorations into the essence of landscape in the 1960s.

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