Zao Wou-Ki Beyond Blue
The colour of blue has special inspiration to Zao Wou- Ki's construction of space in canvas. 07.06.88 (Lot 408), 13.01.98 (Lot 409) and 15.07.89 (Lot 410) illustrates the diversified character and charisma of blue. The variation of blue in Zao's works is closely linked with the concept of traditional Chinese ink painting and the spiritual essence of Chinese landscape painting.
Three oil paintings mark the completion of a stylistic transition: from the 1960s - when bold lines and surging, a gitated blocks of color dominated his canvases - t o the 1980s when his use of col o rwash effects from Chinese ink painting liberated the expressive qualities of color itself. at this point, there are no distinguishable objects to serve as reference or signifier, instead colour has become the crux of his work. He plays with the colour layout, the matching of various tones and their application on the canvas. Light and colour, in the 1980s, became Zao Wou- Ki's vocabulary for his continuing explorations. Zao Wou-Ki took up Chinese ink and wash painting in 1973. His artistic style started to vary gradually after incorporating the idea of ink on paper paintings into his oil paintings, shifting from his artistic language in the 1960s from one that is dominated by lines to one dominated by planes in the 1980s. Zao Wou-Ki was eager to find colour, to create the 'rhythms of solid forms and empty spaces,' 'constant motion,' and 'a wonderful balance between lightness and weight.' He said, 'I want to paint what cannot be seen: the breath of life, the wind, the various forms life can take, the birth of colours, and the way they merge.' 07.06.88 (Lot 408) is nothing if not a field of colours being born—new colours created from collisions of others. Zao's colours in the '80s became lighter, more graceful, and gentler. In ink painting, new colours are coincidentally created by the mixing of colours the moment colored ink contacts the absorbent Xuan paper. Zao's focus, however, was not just on new colours but on blending them together, making natural transitions b e t w e e n t h e c o l o u r s o f u t m o s t i m p o r t a n c e . He deliberately increased the p r o p o r t i o n o f s o l v e n t when mixing pigments, and when applying them, he tried to spread the pigments as evenly as possible to leave no brush marks, creating continuous colours that flowed, permeated, and spread. Like drops of colour falling into clear water, they mix gradually to form new hues. The indigo at the right side of
07.06.88 , along with the light blue-violet, silver-blue, and pastel blue, creates distinct layers. near the center, beige, chrysanthemum-bud white, and waxy white flow across the canvas. Transparency is created through different tones of colour, seemingly reproducing the float and drfit effect of colour in water.
13.01.98 (Lot 409) explores the timeless mood of traditional Chinese painting, as in this prospect of ochre and mottled cyanine intertwined with three large blue smudges in the background, and not only hearkens back to the format of Song and Yuan dynasty landscapes, but, even more, tells of the charm of Tang Dynasty paintings of distant mountains (Fig.4). Traditional landscape "green mountains and waters" in Zao's restructuring are endowed with ethereal movement and rhythm. The artist is as usual adept at combining the real with the illusory, with contrasting static and dynamic approaches, and so a large area of tenuous, uniform green at the bottom sets the blue and brown to dancing at the bottom of the canvas, wantonly-shifting colours. The expansive spat i al i t y i n 15.07.89 (Lot 410) undergoes a breakthrough in that it seems to emit light from within the canvas to the surface. Oscillating planes of colour, light and shade meet, collide and diverge, skidding across the surface and puzzling the viewer as to the distance created. 15.07.89 vividly displays his new concept on an expansive space. The viewer can explore the structure of the universe from within the piece. 15.07.89 blends time and space through the free flow of oil paints to create a new conception of time and space. Through the dry brushstroke which carries the idea of time, viewer travels back to traditional ink painting, for instance, Xia Gui's Conversation under Pine Cliff (Fig.2), which shares similar technique, experiencing the rich Chinese tradition accumulated in several centuries.
1 autobiography of Zao Wou-Ki , artist's Publishing Co., Taipei, Taiwan, 1993, p. 15.