"... I saw the Alps covered in snow. When the mists were moving, there were distinct layers and shifting tones between the white of the mists and the white of the snow. In my mind I could see nothing but scenes of those mists moving over the white lands and the depths appearing within them. My heart seemed to rise up and subside in time with the shifting colours, from deep to shallow, from dense to light, and immediately images from Tang poetry came to mind. As soon as I returned home I could hardly wait to start painting."
In 1985, Chu Teh-Chun was invited to participate in a joint exhibition at the Galerie Pierre-Hubert in Geneva, Switzerland. As his train passed through the Alps, covered in dazzling white snow, Chu was moved by the majestic snowy landscape he saw outside his window. From this initial inspiration he began his "Snow Scene" series of paintings.
The combination of firmness, strength, and freedom in the lines of Chu's Nuances de givre I, on the one hand, recall the action painting practiced by the Western school of Abstract Expressionism (Fig. 1). But to find the essence of this work, the fusion of Eastern and Western art it embodies, we must look to the fundamental spirit of the poetry and landscape painting of the Tang and Song. While Chu's earliest works often drew on linear structures in heavy black, resembling those of Pierre Soulages, he gradually evolved toward the use of more flowing, calligraphic lines with an ink-and-brush flavor (Fig. 2). His lines in oil retain the variations in density of the ink medium; they range from coarse to fine, producing textures with a subtly yet richly layered feel, through which he depicts the stubborn strength of withered branches rustling in the cold winter wind.
With the flowing quality and the easy command of his brushwork, the compositions Chu Teh-Chun built out of points, lines, and planes possessed greater sense of space than ever before. The rhythmic cadences of his lines and his almost recklessly splashed dots of paint here convey the beauty of flying snowflakes in a welcome snowfall. Decorative touches of red emerge in the rocky landscape like plum blossoms opening in the frosty cold, adding their sense of exuberant life and dancing movement to the work. In the interweaving of vertical and horizontal lines across the canvas, Chu reproduces the bold upward reach of the mountain forms found in Tang and Song landscapes. Viewers will feel virtually placed inside this scene of majestic snowy peaks, where they can enjoy its quiet contentment and tranquility and its lofty open spaces.
Chu Teh-Chun uses a minimal amount of colour in Nuances de givre I, creating a profound conception for this snowy landscape and setting out its natural beauty with little more than the shifting hues of blue, white, and black. The varying thickness of his white oil pigments presents the dense snow and mist of this scene with a quality similar to the spreading washes of ink on paper. Richly layered shadings of indigo blue highlight the chilly, wintry feel of the snow scene, which Chu captures with streaked, open brushstrokes borrowed from Chinese calligraphy. Washes of blue-green colour pass through the entire composition, from top to bottom, adding to the effect of glistening, transparent depth in the snowy landscape of the foreground. The work as a whole projects an atmosphere similar to the Wintry Groves in a Snow Landscape by the Northern Song painter Fan Kuan (Fig. 3), a depiction of the thrilling grandeur of the mountains in the ancient Qin and Long regions after a snowfall.
Tang Dynasty painter Wang Wei, in his "Secrets of Landscape Painting," wrote that "To gain success one must seek the essence of nature." By this he meant that, rather than rigidly copying natural scenes, artists should rely on genuine personal reactions, sublimating the tangible forms of nature into more individual realizations. This Chu Teh-Chun fully achieves throughout his "Snow Scene" series of works. His abstracted snow scenes are not mere reproductions of Alpine scenery, but communicate the inner mental imagery he himself associated with such scenes. A viewer standing in front of Nuances de givre I is transported through the boundaries of space and time to sense Chu Teh-Chun's own excitement at experiencing that first snow scene.