"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 are elements of the universe, in unity of the universe.”
Painted in 1951, Pilgrimage (Lot 452) exhibits the influence of his trip in Europe in 1950s. Zao Wou-Ki included and re-arranged figures, church, plant and the 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 of hills, kiosks and pine trees in Mountains and Pines in Spring (Fig.1) painted by Mi Fu, a great master in Song Dynasty whom Zao had admired since his early age. This work demonstrates Zao Wou-Ki’s early concentration on the density of spatial layout.
Zao Wou-Ki applied snatchy ink lines to depict the contour of figures, church, plant and hills. A. Giacometti once commented Zao’s works of this period of time as “there is a hasty and thrilling quality in his paintings that attracted him so much.” And Michaux also described that “the restrained frankness, jagged fluency and spontaneous running of brushstrokes which revealed his reverie impulse fascinated Zao Wou-Ki. 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 (Cathédrale) (Lot 24) painted in 1951-1952. Thus, Zao Wou-Ki's watercolour and oil creations have undergone a neck-to-neck development. Stylistically, they have also kept their forces united.
In his work Untitled (Lot 453) painted in 1973, and Untitled (Lot 454) painted in 1986, Zao makes full use of the stacked effect of the ink layers, and then adds details in the middle part to express a multi-layered sense and add texture and density, thereby displaying an orderly rhythm; as Zao Wou-Ki said: "I do not want to fill it, but give it life." His works show objects in an atmosphere of disillusionment, reproducing the amid misty clouds, rocks stand tall in the Song and Tong dynasties. Zao Wou-Ki 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.