"Colour cannot be applied independently because of its symbiosis nature. One brush interferes the entire canvas; one point impacts the others. Considering as a whole, changes can only be made by the simplest approach".
– Zao Wou-Ki 1
02.01.68 (Lot 375) and 20.07.89 (Lot 374) mark the completion of a stylistic transition: from the 1960s - when bold lines and surging, agitated blocks of color dominated his canvases – to the 1980s when his use of color wash 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 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 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.'
02.01.68 dates from 1968, a time when Zao had already lived in France for 20 years and was well-versed in the concepts and techniques of Western art. But long exploration of his own cultural roots also led, in 02.01.68, to a harmonious and successful melding of Eastern and Western elements. Zao did not intend to fill up the canvas, but chose to leave the bottom area 'blank'. In the same spirit as 'liubai' in Chinese painting, not only is the blank area a significant element in the composition, it is also where the soul of the painting lies.
The relatively modest dimensions of 02.01.68 nevertheless convey a broad vision with a feeling of grand, surging momentum. The interplay of solid lines and empty space, as in calligraphy, creates great power, and the combination of motion and stillness in the painting produces its sense of convergence, pauses, and flow.
Zao's colours in the 80s became lighter, more graceful, and gentler. 20.07.89 is nothing if not a field of colours being born—new colours created from collisions of others. 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 between the colours of utmost importance. He deliberately increased the proportion of solvent 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. Such effect is comparable to the theory of light and colour of Turner (Fig. 1 & 2). The bottom part of 20.07.89 is divided by three colour sessions – dark grey, olive green and greenish beige. Pictorial depth is created with the use of milky white with silver-blue tone in the upper part. A small structure formed by refined by strong black and light pink lines on the V-shaped valley-like part on the lower right further enhances the depth. Transparency is created through different tones of colour, seemingly reproducing the float and drift effect of colour in water, resembling the special arrangement by Conversation under Pine Cliff by Xia Gui from the Southern Song Dynasty. And despite the fact that 20.07.89 is already a completely abstract work, viewers can still sense the artist's insight into the nature.
1 Autobiography of Zao Wou-Ki , artist's Publishing Co., Taipei, Taiwan, 1993,