In my paintings, color is very strong, for I am very sensitive to colors, and colors are my resonance.
Zhou Chunya, whose destinctive style established him as one of the leading artists in Chinese abstract painting, belongs to a generation of artists who based their work on a personal dialogue between their Chinese heritage and the influence of encounters with art movements in the west. Zhou's biography provides insight into rich and diverse experiences and his ouevre comprises a stylistic development that reflects his tremendous knowledge of art, his creativity, curiousity and self-awarness.
The beginning of his career was marked by an intesive study of the techniques of Russian oil painting. Key elements of early Russian Expressionism are found in works such as Valentin Serov's The Girl with Peaches (1887). Their focus on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature taught Zhou not only the principles of anatomy and perspective, but also the development of light and color, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world.
But it was only during his time as a student at the Painting Department of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Chongqing, that he learned about the artists in the canon of Western modernism. When he moved to Germany in 1986, his journey of stylistic exploration reached new heights: he delved into the study of Impressionism, Cubism and Expressionism and encountered the Neo-Expressionistic movement called "Junge Wilde," ("wild youth "), which had a tremendous impact on his work and ultimately changed his approach to painting. The "Jung Wilde" wanted to free their art from any repressive constraints and create a realm with an abundance of color, material, narration and intended shapelessness. Through sweeping and energetic brushstrokes and powerful, expressive colors, these abstract and sensual paintings reflect the subjective feelings of their protagonists. Recurring themes such as fear and sexuality are portrayed in a complex and highly individualistic manner. The unique use of color, intrinsic to the works of artists like Rainer Fetting and Elvira Bach, inspired Zhou and triggered the creation of works such as the floral series.
Zhou's artistic diversity and constant evolvement is revealed in his Rock series, painted during the 1990's, as well as his more recent Green Dog series. Both Ya'an (Lot 508) and Houli,Ya'an (Lot 507) are abstracted works with complex color compositions, a heightened sense of energetic movement and overwhelming emotion. Zhou creates a rock's voluminous dimensions, carvings and multifaceted surface through layers of colors and juxtaposition of dark and light as well as color combinations. Through expressive compositions and powerful brushstrokes he animates the rocks, bestowing upon them an almost human spirit.
Zhou's dog series gives intimate insight into his sensitivity and attachment to the things he cherishes and loves. Hei Gen No. 17 (Lot 506) is the artist's very personal tribute to his beloved German Shepherd, Heigen, who died a tragic death. Painted in non-representational proportions and complementing green and red colors, the dog is transformed into a metaphor of great emotion. Standing against the white, empty background, the dog is detached from anything materialistic, which emphasizes the symbolism he attains.
Upon his return to China, Zhou, was met with the question of how best to incorperate his new experiences to his own cultural subjectivity and it is not only the rock series, but also the Peachblossom series that reflect this development: while in the beginning he incorporated Chinese Painting traditions more explicitely to his overall expressionistic work, he later focuses more on a purer neo-expressionistic style and the effect of color, but mainting the painting's "Chinese identity" mainly through the language of symbolism, namely the peachblossom itself. Its diverse metaphorical meaning is deeply rooted in Chinese tradition, where it stands for immortality, erotiscism and even the deliscousness and tenderness of a young bride.
Zhou's Untitled (Lot 509) depicts a bright spring day. The air is filled with the sweet scent of fresh hey and blooming peach blossoms. Green blades of grass float in the air like paper streamers. Bursting with splendor and beauty, the blossoms violently spread across the canvas, revealing their luscoius and cloying deep pink mincement. Under Zhou's brush the mild and introverted elements of traditional domestic culture are preserved, while delicate and inert characters are abandoned. At the same time, the emphasis on color and the momentum of brush line, which belong to the domain of Western painting, are highlighted.
"Unlike some artists who discard tradition and demand for novelty, such spirit is very precious to discard restraint for novelty, I am different. The subjects I choose, the techniques and colors I use are very ambiguous. I am a person who thinks a lot, reviews a lot before I take the next step. I am not those who dare to march forward regardless of everything. I have been deeply influenced by the Chinese tradition, which I can never be rid off wherever I am."
- Zhou Chunya
While visually stimulating, Zhou's Plum Blossom series also contains a highly philosophical message. Being an allegory for nature as a whole, the plum blossoms evoke an inner dialogue about our very own fate within natural order. The sensitive balance between the peak of bloom and devastating decay stands behind the idea of spring and brings the transience of our life ever so clearly to our consciousness.