In the richly expressive tableaux of Chu Teh-Chun, we are invited to voyage through the imaginary realms of abstraction; a place where picturesque Western vistas meet the reflective beauty and traditions of Oriental culture, all ingenuously merged in a contemporary setting that inspires introspection.
The imprint of Chinese culture can indeed be seen in Chu Teh-Chun's works. Chu himself indicated that, as regards his paintings and their relationship to traditional Chinese painting styles and techniques, his Chinese cultural background was a source of great enrichment; he even said that "the most significant influence on my painting has been ancient Chinese poetry."
In 1955, Chu arrived in Paris and embarked on his European artistic career, immediately adding elements from western art to his own paintings. From 1960 onwards, following his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Henriette Legendre, Chu Teh-chun was an immediate success and a well-known figure in the Parisian art world. Chu Teh Chun's art in the 1970s forms an interesting contrast with Rembrandt's use of color in the handling of light and shadow. In the 1980s Chu left this darker attitude behind and entered a world full of energy, speed, and vibrancy.
Upon his naturalisation as a citizen of France in 1981, Chu embraced all there was of the Western vista with its undulating seasons in a conceptual manner consistent with the oriental inspiration of his roots. In 'Paysage D'hiver' (Lot 216), painted in 1985, the artist's brush sweeps riotously and freely over the canvas, diffusing magnificent colour to create a dazzling play of line and atmospheric effects, while the clash of forces on the canvas and the layered planes of colour stir the viewer with their visual impact. In 'Paysage D'hiver'_ the winter landscape is poignantly captured in the glacial palette of white, blue, black and grey. Tinges of yellow lift and contrast such chromacity, and yet simultaneously increase the algid aura that Chu so exquisitely bestows. In this recondite vision, Chu has recreated his impressions of a world of ice and snow, of grand and lovely peaks appearing and receding into invisibility in the intermingling of mist, cloud and snow.
In the vestibule of his Paris home, Chu Teh-Chun hung a poem by Su Dongpo, a favorite of calligraphers, called "Memory at the Red Cliff." The poem reads, "The Yangtze flows east As its great waves vanish, so too the great ones of elder days West of the ramparts, it is said, are the Red Cliffs of the Three Kingdoms' young General Zhou Rough rocks pierce the sky, waves break on the banks, heaving up a snowy froth Through this landscape, like a painting, once passed great heroes In the distant past there was Zhou Gong Jin, with his new bride Zhao Valiant and bright, dressed in plume and silk kerchief Laughing, as enemy ships fell to wrack and ruin My thoughts roam through ancient realms Ridiculous these sentiments of mine, and in my hair, early grey Life passes like a dream; raise a cup to moon and river." Like the scene of the poem, those calligraphy scrolls by Chu Teh-Chun possess the flowing power and energy of the surging Yangtze, but also the romance and reserve of the young bride of the verse. The poem was written as Su Dongpo was traveling on official business to Huangzhou in July of the year 1082; its first stanza is an ode on the Red Cliff, and the second remembers General Zhou Yu, while the conclusion is tinged with Su Dong-po's own sadness. This nostalgic ode for past days opens on an exalted note and on a grand scale, its emotional register moving between exhilaration and sadness. It is just such a blend of the extremes of feeling, of Yin and Yang, which informs Chu Teh-Chun's paintings, from which they gain their greatness and lasting appeal. Chu's abstract art gives expression to the raw force of "surging waves breaking on the shore," but is also capable of evoking more subtle and nostalgic feelings, of "plumes and silk kerchiefs," in paintings where the two are joined into one without contradiction.
The Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once said, "The manifest arises from the darkness; the ordering of forms from the formless; the pure spirit from the Dao; and bodily forms from the essence. The multitude of things gives rise to one another through their forms."
Out of the undifferentiated, or what Laotze called "Huanghu," arises "Qi." The primordial state of formlessness, dark and obscure, contains this Qi; in Laotze's treatise "Northward Knowledge," that which has form is the manifest, and the formless is primordial darkness; from that formlessness all things arise. Chu Teh-Chun had an intense emotional response to these ideas from ancient Chinese philosophy about the mysterious inner rhythms of the universe. His canvases have an underlying order that belies the apparent chaos of their surfaces, even echoing ideas from the "chaos theory" that arose in physics in the 1970s. "Chaos" may have been the primordial state of the universe before any organization, demarcation, or order had appeared in it, yet chaos is in fact a structured and rule-governed system whose apparent disorder is only a surface manifestation. Chu Teh-Chun's canvases likewise seem filled with a wild jumble of colours, but the "chaos" of the colors is brought under control by their strong lines, lines that are a governing force in the paintings like the rhythms of the universe.
Chu Teh-Chun's art tended toward even more formless expressions in the '90s, and approached even more closely the ideals of the Tang and Song painters. The enthusiasm of Chu Teh-Chun, now in his 80s at the opening of the 21st century, has never abated, as his recent comment shows: "Painting for me is getting better and better. I feel traditional influences even more: when we talk about mixing East and West, well, for me, Wu Guanzhong and the others are like this too, we understand both, and my years of practice in art have produced a third thing, neither East nor West, sometimes even without my being aware of it."