This Lot has been sourced from overseas. When au… Read more


dated ‘1996’, signed in Chinese (lower right)
oil on canvas
100 × 80 cm. (39 3/8 × 31 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1996
China Guardian, 14 May 2005, lot 0166
Private Collection, Asia

Time Zone 8, Zhou Chunya, Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, p.215).
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Museum of Art, 1971 – 2010 Forty Years Retrospective Review of Zhou Chunya, June 13-23, 2010.
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Lot Essay

“This kind of compression, this cropping of forms, transcends the sense of reality in the subject, and in fact it has already caused the images in the pictorial space to take on a kind of mysterious, symbolic flavor—and that is the essence of Eastern painting.” – Zhou Chunya

In 1989, Zhou Chunya returned from study abroad in Germany, his brief period of estrangement from Chinese culture having served to bring him a fresh perspective on his own cultural traditions. Roses , dating from 1996, is a representative work, embodying a blend of aesthetic concepts that typifies this early period. The strong, radical brushwork and rich textures exemplify Zhou's grasp of Expressionist ideas and techniques, but the organic rhythms, as he balances form and empty space, hardness and softness, and dense and diffuse regions, were features that he had sifted from traditional Chinese aesthetics.

Zhou Chunya's early explorations in the '90s would be crucial in forming the later styles of his career. While at the University of Kassel, he was deeply affected by the tide of German Expressionism, and was stimulated by the work German Expressionists such as Georg Baselitz (1938- ), even as more traditional artistic vocabularies left an imprint on him. Just as Baselitz daubed disturbing images of human figures onto his canvases with broad, bold strokes (Fig. 1), the brushwork in Zhou's Roses seems nearly deranged, leaving the pitch black tones of his brushstrokes stuck like brambles in a rustcolored background. Each brushstroke might be a single stem, yet each contains even finer wisps that branch into other dimensions, transporting the viewer into the rich and strange inner world of this artist.

But Zhou Chunya never became a total convert to the Western system of aesthetics. Any viewer, looking at Roses , will respond to the "written feeling" of its surging, audacious lines, as his jet black pigments freely collide and sweep across the canvas, leaving streaky, open brushstrokes that create rich texture and visual impact. For Zhou Chunya, that ”written feeling“ derived from the millennia-old Chinese traditions of calligraphy and impressionistic painting. It provides the central melody that guides the viewer's experience from beginning to end, while the colours and forms that revolve around this boldly expressed ”writing“ produce the vividness of Rose. It is this ”writing“ that enables Expressionism, along with the lyrical impressionism of Chinese tradition, to meet and dialogue in Zhou's work.

The sense of visual experience being refined and elevated, which Zhou Chunya found in classical painters such as Kun Can, helped develop in his own work the undulating movement of landscape paintings and their sense of vigorous energy. The large number of mountain rock paintings from his early period also owed a debt to the ink-wash and calligraphy styles of Shi Tao and Bada Shanren. But of all the classical Chinese masters, it was the textures of Kun Can's landscapes that Zhou most admired for their combination of natural, robust strength and lively, agile layering (Fig. 2). Though Roses belongs to the still life genre, Zhou has absorbed from such ink-wash landscapes the sense of overall control of the pictorial space. The stems of his roses have the feel of strangely shaped rocks on steep, craggy mountainsides, though here they are adorned with roses in full bloom scattered among them. The visual focus of Roses is spread out for the viewer, though the separate parts of the painting echo each other strongly; its great appeal lies in the way the viewer's gaze wanders through the work, sometimes stopping and lingering, and at other times flowing with the movement of the painting.

Zhou Chunya's Rose is a fusion, and a liberation, of the energies inherent in both ancient and modern and Eastern and Western aesthetics. At the same time, it reveals the artist's unique understanding of contemporary artistic meaning, challenging and overturning our sense of what the ancient literati painters were about. He has retained the abstract, impressionistic brushwork and the harmony of their work, but largely reinterprets their mildness and their reserved, inner-directed nature. Zhou's mountain stone and floral-themed works often transcend the scope of their own images or motifs, becoming instead expressions of self-awareness, just as here, his Rose breaks down the symbolism of gentle romanticism or ideal love associated with the rose. Instead, within this thicket of dried branches and stones, there is something almost angry or threatening, and with this intense psychological clash, a savage and wild kind of vital energy bursts from the painting. A bunch of roses, as painted by Zhou Chunya, reveals the grand essential energy of heaven and earth.

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