"I was familiar with Paris at that time, and started to make a living by painting. I then decided to take a break and travel for a while in Spain and Italy. The scenery in Tuscany, Italy is similar to that is Jiangnan, China. Observing architecture in cities facilitated my special arrangement. I spent a lot of time looking at the mural, I wanted to know how to use linear perspective to depict space, and analyze the arrangement of figures. Returned to Paris, I painted many landscape, architecture and nature, in which the figures and animals are not the subject matter, rather they are elements of the universe, in unity of the universe." 1
Painted in 1951, Pilgrimage (Lot 452) exhibits the influence of his trip in Europe in 1950s. Zao Wou-Ki re-arranged figures, church, plant and hill in a two dimensional space with a four-section vertical layout resembling the composition of Chinese landscape paintings. although in semi-figural style, yet instead of figurative art, Zao's intention was aimed to the spatial layout reminiscent of the composition of traditional Chinese landscape painting, like the arrangement in Mountains and Pines in Spring (Fig.1) painted by Mi Fu. This work demonstrates Zao's early concentration on the density of spatial layout. Zao applied snatchy ink lines to depict the contour of figures, church, plant and hills. Michaux described that "the restrained frankness, jagged fluency and spontaneous running of brushstrokes which revealed his reverie impulse fascinated Zao. Suddenly, the whole work is emitting a joy which can be found exclusively in towns and villages of China, with jubilation and humorous eloquence, all in a chaos of symbols and signs." These hasty and thrilling lines were also applied in his Sans Titre (Cathedrale) (Lot 24). Thus, Zao Wou-Ki's watercolour and oil creations have undergone a neck-to-neck development. In 1973 Untitled (Lot 453), and 1986 Untitled (Lot 454), Zao makes full use of the stacked effect of the ink layers. Zao continues the momentum of Chinese traditional ink, while strengthening the rhythm of stacked colours and visual effects to construct distinctive watercolour works with Chinese traditional aesthetics.
1 Zao Wou-Ki artist's self-portrait, artist's Publishing Co., Taipei, Taiwan, 1993, p. 103.