(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-ki ZAO' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right); signed 'ZAO WOU-KI' in Pinyin; dated '21.1.85' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
195 x 114 cm. (76 3/4 x 44 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1985
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986-1987
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, France and Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1986 (illustrated, plate 247, p. 305).
Claude Roy, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'art, Paris, France, 1988 (illustrated, p. 159).
Daniel Abadie & Martine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, France, 1988 (illustrated, plate 67, p. 120).
Daniel Abadie & Martine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1989 (illustrated, plate 72).
Claude Roy, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, France, 1992 (illustrated, plate 40, p. 159).
Daniel Abadie & Martine Contensou, Zao Wou-Ki, Cultural Edition, Taipei, Taiwan, 1993 (illustrated, plate 72).
Claude Roy, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, France, 1996 (illustrated, plate 40, p. 159).
Jean-Luc Chalumeau, Zao Wou-Ki: Ce qui est abstrait pour vous est réel pour moi, Éditions Cercle d'art, Paris, France, 2001 (illustrated, plate 34).

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Lot Essay

21.1.85 Using Color for New Spatial Awareness

In 1973 Zao Wou-ki did take up ink painting once again. His experience with the absorptive quality of the soft, finely textured Chinese xuan paper (rice paper) and the flowing washes of ink across it gradually produced changes in his painting style. By the 1980s, a vast store of creative energy had been building and found an outlet in Zao's oil works. At this juncture, "the amazing variety of blacks, whites, and grays, especially strongly layered grays" of the ink medium were transformed into the dilute oils he applied to his canvas, newly expressed as groups of warm or cool tones which he brought into harmony or placed in conflicting juxtapositions. As signified by its title, 21.1.85 (Lot 2004) dates from 1985. It retains, in terms of technique, some of the brash dripping and splashing of abstract expressionism, but at the same time exhibits the fine, flowing color gradations of ink-wash painting and its richly layered effects. Its formal elements further show how Zao gradually moved away from line as the central structuring principle of his paintings, emphasizing instead the use of color planes in managing his picture spaces. 21.1.85 embodies and reflects another period of innovation in this artist's conceptual thinking and formal modes of expression.

21.1.85 is boldly divided into three major planes of deep blue, pinkish-white, and yellow ochre. Zao has a masterful grasp of the unusual textures that emerge in the meeting of transparent and non-transparent areas of color; his diluted pigments flow gracefully as he creates a sense of deep and vast distances in the juxtaposition of these blocks of color and the pooling together of their layers. The compositional changes that appear in 21.1.85 gave concrete expression to Zao's original concepts about space. The planes of color that possess such depth in this painting are neither imitations of real, three-dimensional space, nor do they reflect the sense, as in his 1960s works, of the compositional space of traditional Chinese landscapes. Here, instead, the artist rejects the reflexive use of single-point perspective in a flat picture space, or the use of atmospheric effects to create a sense of distance. Instead he makes use of viewers' inability to judge the scale or distance of these painted forms, and by so doing, he breaks down the stereotypical presentation of space and creates a new space that exists only within the frame of the painting. Getting a fix on these spreading, overlapping colors that have no borders is difficult: just like the universe itself, in its constant expansion since its explosive birth, the limitless depths of this painting seem able to embrace and contain everything. In the midst of this universe, we cannot directly know the structures of its outer reaches, but can only explore the principles from which its underlying structure is formed. Albert Einstein proposed the notion of "the fourth dimension" to explain the physical and temporal structure of the universe, noting beyond the usual dimensions of length, breadth, and depth, there was a fourth axis, time, and together they create the totality of the space-time continuum. The temporal aspect of 21.1.85, the events of its pigment flows and the special structure of its spaces, come together to create a kind of space beyond our normal perception and experience. Zao's color planes, sometimes starkly separate and sometimes merging together, seem both mutually repelling and yet organically interdependent, their uncertain relationship hinting at possible distortions in the space of the universe. The orange, blue, and bright yellow appearing at the edges of the canvas further hint at an even broader movement and expansion. Zao's liberation of the compositional elements in 21.1.85 reorganizes and reorders space and establishes a new kind of structural form.

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