'The work of Zao Wou-Ki shows us clearly how the Chinese views the universe, in which the blurred and far-off reflects the spirit of contemplation rather than the thing contemplated. This view of the universe has become a modern and universal vision. And men as different as Paul Klee, Mark Toby or Henri Michaux have likewise had recourse to it.' (Alain Jouffroy, Arts, 1954)
The years between 1954 and 1957 witnessed an important shift in Zao Wou-Ki's art. After experiencing the initial Klee figurative stage in the 1950s, 1954's Vent (Wind) marks the first time Zao's painting relinquishes its narrative elements. Zao once stated in a 1976 interview that: 'My painting becomes illegible. Still lifes and flowers were no longer there. I was tending towards an imaginary, indecipherable writing.' (Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli, New York, 1978, p. 310). This sort of change in painting style springs from a groundbreaking exploration of the integration of traditional Chinese aesthetic philosophy with Western Abstractionism, while also drawing upon the influences of an expanded array of creative tools, and thus Zao graduated from the use of only fully-charged, small, sharp brushes to add broad, flat brushes from 1953 on, thus facilitating the swift creation of smooth, fluid strokes without sacrificing depth and thickness.
During these four critical years, Zao Wou-Ki only created a handful of works with the Vent (Wind) as subject matter. Aside from the 1957 Vent (Wind) currently housed within the collection of the Mus?e National d'Art Moderne Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the 1956 Mistral in the New York Guggenheim Museum, Vent Chaud (Hot Wind) (Lot 27) from 1956 offered here is a rare piece created in the one-year period between the above two works. Given the formless, invisible, and shadowless nature of wind, Zao needed the help of other subjects affected by the power of wind to implicitly convey its existence. Vent Chaud (Hot Wind) uses an aerial perspective of a traditional Chinese mountain-and-water landscape space, while it also defers to Western painting in a manner akin to the rapidly shifting light in Turner's works which captures the entire expanse of surgent natural phenomena. Zao is, moreover, fully alive to balance in this painting, and all of the energy concentrates in its middle with intricate strokes and a bright white background generating a wrack of cirrus cloud that sweeps forward with impressive momentum, and with red ochre and brown predominating, thereby conveying quite the sense of gauzy tranquility of "[blossoms] passing without trace, like clouds scudding across the sky". Zao Wou-Ki met musician Edgar Varese in 1955, and the latter's experimental music influenced his style of dynamic-and-static, full-and-empty picture treatment.
It is noteworthy that in this period Zao Wou-Ki began to introduce Shang and Zhou dynasty bronze inscription symbols into his paintings, and these scattered symbols serve to draw the pictorial space, already deep from the oil paint, back to the surface again, just as in the method Pablo Picasso and George Braque employ in their Analytical Cubism stage to emphasise a two-dimensional painting plane by introducing letters therein. Furthermore, these symbols influenced by the oracle bones and other ancient inscriptions are charged with the full weight of the vagaries of Chinese history and civilisation.
The title of this work, Vent Chaud (Hot Wind), is also rather intriguing in that, in addition to its veneration of natural phenomena, it may also serve as Zao Wou-Ki's dedication to writer Lu Xun's anthology Hot Wind, in which appears the essay Misunderstood Transliterations criticises critical errors in the translations of ancient texts and their inimical effects on children. Zao Wou-Ki, as a master spanning Western and Chinese art, based on his deep understanding of two cultures and their elaboration and fusion, was not merely one of those who, although conversant with their cultural norms, yet remains woefully unaware of their true essence and the magnificence of their translation. During this same period, Zao Wou-Ki also created Hommage ? Chu-Yun (Hommage to Chu-Yun) and Hommage ? Tou-Fou (Hommage to Tou-Fou), and so eulogised these three great literary masters who all dared to defy authority to criticise the darkness of their society and to quest for a model of individual liberty.