I hope to forge a new style of abstract painting out of Western color relationships and abstract, calligraphic lines: a style that expresses abstract realms like those of classical Chinese poetry—ineffable realms that can only be sensed or felt. — Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun traveled to many destinations in his younger years. In 1969 he attended a retrospective on the 300th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and further visits to various museums in Munich, Germany in 1972 would prove to have a great influence on his work in the 1970s. Chu's 1979.2.14 (Valentine’s Day) brings together the quintessential features of his style in the 1970s. Chu was an artist who strove, through his use of color, light, and line, to present the abstract 'rhythms' of the world at a metaphysical level. He once noted that 'No color or line in my compositions is accidental. They all work harmoniously toward the same goal—to activate a source of light within the composition, to galvanize forms into being and to produce a sense of harmonious rhythm.'
Chu Teh-Chun always maintained his connection with calligraphy, but in 1976 spent even more time than usual on the discipline of ink-and-brush character writing. It was this familiarity with ink and brush that made possible the sensitive, strong, yet naturally flowing character of Chu's work. In 1979.2.14 (Valentine’s Day), we sense the momentum of the artist's brush moving freely and rapidly across the canvas, sweeping up and down all in one single stroke; his brushwork recalls the 'cursive' style of calligraphy, in which strange shapes and both coarse and fine lines are all linked together by the calligrapher's expression of feeling.(Fig.1) Chu wields his brush with exquisite skill, his agile wrist motions guiding a soft calligraphy brush, sometimes with soft, light agility and sometimes with force and power, to produce the 'writing' in this painting. During the 1960s and '70s, Chu's reexamination of Eastern culture led him to apply ink-wash effects and their spreading haloes of color within the oil medium. In this work, his dense red, reddish-brown, and red-black flow like ink along the paths of his forthright brushstrokes, while the fine balance between solid forms and emptiness gives rise to its sense of space. The harmonious interweaving of lines and blocks of color suggest a rushing stream flying along a craggy rock wall, or, as the title suggests, the happy, skipping notes of a Valentine's Day evening.
Chu Teh-Chun gave much attention to the study of light in the 1970s, making a kind of formless light the chief focal point of many paintings and altering the kind of ambience they projected. He sought to engage the viewer dramatically through his use of light and shadow, an approach traceable to his admiration for the painters Goya, El Greco, and Rembrandt: portrayals focusing on the quality of light can be found in Goya's The Third of May 1808, El Greco's View of Toledo, and in the paintings of Rembrandt (Fig.2). A distinct source of light appears in the central region of Chu's 1979.2.14, penetrating through light streaks of color to find the viewer's eye; strong contrasts between highly lit and shaded portions, between brightness and shadow, judiciously handled by Chu, give the painting its appealing drama and sense of mystery.
Chu Teh-Chun loved color and excelled in its use, and the fact that a great many of his works feature rather cool-toned palettes (Fig.3) makes the warm colors of 1979.2.14 (Valentine’s Day) seem all the more rare and valuable. Referring to Chu Teh-Chun, journalist Pierre Cabanne noted that 'He favors certain colors—jade or garden green, sky or ocean blue, golden yellow, autumn brown, or pale white, and sometimes he blends them, sometimes opposes them. He has broken down the usual forms, giving vibration to light, and blurring the usual values within the system of contrasts.' In this work, Chu's yellow and bright yellow sometimes blend into his red and red-black, but sometimes contrast sharply with them, while, at what seems a great distance, a kind of emerald green glows softly, bringing wonderful depth and complexity to the painting. Color here becomes a kind of narrative vocabulary for the artist: reds, symbolic of love, at some points ignite into scorching flames, but elsewhere within the painting flow quietly and peacefully, like water, and it is hard not to imagine that this painting may be the arti
st's personal interpretation of the meaning of love.