Chu Teh-Chun, already established with his figurative paintings in his early years, and was deeply inspired by Nicolas de Stael's abstract landscape paintings (Fig.1) in the 1960s. “A painting should be both abstract and figurative: abstract to the extent that it is a flat surface, figurative to the extent that it is a representation of space,” said Nicholas de Stael. One of the Chu’s earlier abstract paintings, Mars 1975 (Lot 29), created in 1975, exemplifies how the boundary between abstract and figurative could be blurred on a canvas. Detached from the influence of Nicholas de Stael, Chu drew upon the wonders of nature and even cosmos with bold brushstrokes and the colors, evoking Chinese traditional ink painting. Considering that Chu usually named his paintings in numbers, Mars 1975 is very unique in that not only the title but the entire color scheme and the smudging effect remind the viewer of the vivid image of Mars, the “Red Planet” (Fig.2), the true unknown world and the wonder of cosmos beyond our human’s knowledge. His creative, well pondered journey is completed in his unique artistic vocabulary, following a continuous process of self-reflection. Transcending the boundaries of form, Chu's abstract landscape comes alive in the viewer's mind as a figurative vista of splendor and greatness.
Consistent with the title, the overall palette in Mars 1975 (Lot 29) is dominated with yellow, orange and brown in addition to the fundamental black colour. Strong yellow and reddish brown contrasted with dark brown and black let the viewer witness the tranquility before the imminent explosion in Mars. This warm palette is rare in Chu’s oeuvre, in which the cold color spectrum, such as jade green and blue, is dominant (Fig.3). In Mars 1975, however, a hint of Chu’s beloved jade green color at the center of the painting successfully creates a space of deep contrast where darkness becomes a dominating feature, to the manner of the best Tenebrism, an extreme form of Chiaroscuro, developed during the Baroque period in Europe and beloved by the master of light in Western art, Rembrandt (Fig.4). Using a limited palette, Chu successfully creates an effect of light through the strong contrast of light and dark colors as well as the difference in gradation and concentration of the same color. Chu’s deliberate choice to limit himself to such a basic yet fundamental palette is one sign of the artist's deep affinity with Chinese traditional ink painting and calligraphy that emphasise simplicity and refrainment. In terms of technique, Chu exploits free-flowing brushwork that incorporates the techniques of Chinese calligraphy (Fig.5), with strokes that range from light to heavy and from briskly energetic to relaxed. Yvon Chu, the artist’s son once said, “Calligraphy is Chu’s ‘secret garden’ conveying depth to his life and to his creative process.” In Mars 1975, Chu's scurrying and interweaving points, lines, and blocks of colour bring to the pictorial space a deeply poetic and musical quality.
Chu once said, “I hope to forge a new style of abstract painting out of the colour relationships of Western art and the abstract lines of calligraphy: a concept of abstraction that will be able to express what is inexpressible in the lyrics of our classical Chinese poetry.” Through his non-geometric yet abstract pictorial space, Chu conveys his direct, intuitive understanding of the essence of the real world, while the flowing movements of his brush and colours mirror his own deep inner sense of peace.
Chu finds the ineffable poetry of the brush and ink techniques handed down through generations, and transforms it, in the Western medium of oil, into works of great freedom and vividness-works that stand side by side with the best created by Western practitioners of abstract art forms in the 20th Century.