The scene in the painting is already leaning toward abstraction. Then, under the artist's hand, the source material from daily life, and his feelings toward it, undergoes simplification, elimination, or some other method, and abstraction then becomes one form of art. But there must still be a line connecting the work to its source in daily life. My abstract work incorporates some figuration, and when I say 'the kite string must not be broken,' I mean that even when in the sky, there is still a connection with the parent. So that others can know where my life came from, I still prefer to retain a figurative world within my abstract paintings.
In discussing points of agreement between Eastern and Western art, a comparison can be found in the theory behind Chinese painting and calligraphy on the one hand, and Western abstract formalism on the other. Jing Hao, in his “Notes on Brush Techniques,” put forward six essentials: Vital energy, harmony, thought, scene, and brush and ink. Any excellent painting must have a full measure of the energy of the spirit and an appealing harmony; it must also include the artist's thought, a composed scene, and the beauty of brushwork and ink tones—lacking any of these, the work will fail. All Eastern painting makes use of the special aura of ink, creating scenes of mountain forests whose special ambience in turn conveys the mysteries of nature. Western modernism, by contrast, employs geometrical structures in expressing the concept of space, ingeniously transforming color into physical substance. The two follow different routes toward realizing their conceptions. But if a common “frequency” can be found, it is not impossible to create links and connections between them, to create art with a powerful world view and an unconventional beauty. In his art, Wu Guanzhong found convincing solutions to these problems.
Lu Xun's Hometown Series 1: Old House (Old Wall) (Lot 18) dates from 1981. At that time, Wu Guanzhong had arrived at the realization that traditional Chinese painting had already evolved to a certain point, and that its significance for its own era, and indeed its future, could only be realized by mastering the kind of beauty that could link East with West. The 1980s was the crucial decade in which he laid the foundation for his abstract style. He noted that the scenes he chose to paint already tended toward an abstract, formal beauty. He would first mull over the subjects and experiences he found in daily life, adapting and absorbing them, then would begin simplifying or eliminating, or using other methods to interpret them in abstract form. Lu Xun's Hometown Series 1: Old House (Old Wall) was the first of a series Wu produced in 1981 on the subject of Lu Xun's home; it was the artist's way of paying homage during that year to a literary figure he revered. The memories of this old wall, presented in a geometrical composition in this painting, represent Wu Guanzhong's investment in harmonizing Eastern and Western art, and a product of his ability to retain a figurative scene within an abstract form. One classic example of geometrical abstraction is Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie (Fig. 1): the artist advocated the use of geometrical forms to produce “formal beauty,” composing his works on grids constructed mostly from combinations of vertical and horizontal lines, squares, and rectangles. Mondrian opposed the use of curves, completely shunned objective images, and refused to inject any aspect of daily life into his compositions. Wu Guanzhong occupied the opposite end of the spectrum, deliberately linking his art with his feelings for everyday life. Paying his respects to Lu Xun in this remembered portrait of an old wall, Wu derives an essentially abstract composition, which he presents in an arrangement of rectangles, squares, and arcs. The result is an intriguing and satisfying work of Eastern abstraction.
Utilizing the aura of Chinese inks, Wu Guanzhong's Lu Xun's Hometown Series 1 achieves results paralleling Mondrian's color and space in Broadway Boogie-Woogie, albeit by different means. In Muxi's Six Persimmons (Fig. 2), the artist likewise utilizes the special aura of ink to express the harmonies and energies existing among those objects. His arrangement and positioning of the six dissimilar persimmons, in a composition completed in a single session, come together to express a stable composition and sense of space. Wu Guanzhong's utilization of bricks in the wall likewise takes advantage of ink-like effects to heighten compositional interest and to extend the sense of the wall's area; he extends the spatial conception in a manner not unlike the bright colors of Mondrian's Broadway that produce its bouncy musical notes. Lu Xun's Hometown Series 1: Old House (Old Wall) is a representative work by Wu Guanzhong illustrating his derivation of abstract forms from figurative content. Wu Guanzhong's work also bears a resemblance to Sengai Gibon's Circle, Triangle, and Square (Fig. 3); though the subject of Wu's painting is a remembered wall, part of an old building, it is a vivid demonstration of Wu Guanzhong, in a vernacular painting, expressing the true thought that informs the modern, formalist painting style.