Painted in 1965
oil on canvas
89 x 116 cm. (35 x 45 3/4 in.)
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Galerie Veranneman, Bruxelles, Belgium
Private Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above gallery circa 1979)
Sotheby's Paris, 9 December 2015, Lot 21
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
USA, Los Angeles, Frank Perls Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki, 20 Febuary-22 March, 1968.
Zao Wou-Ki, Frank Perls Gallery, Los Angeles, USA, 1968 (illustrated in black & white, plate 5).
HKD 28,000,000 - 36,000,000
USD 3,589,740 - 4,615,380
- Sold Price
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Peaking in the Integration of the East and the West
In a letter to Zao in 1960, Alfred Manessier wrote, "You are so different in every way: your mental world, your background, your Chinese origins. Though I have never before seen the kind of scenes you paint, or the kind of light within them, I still find in them something known to me, something I recognize, and something that moves me very much." The profound Chinese cultural background and the gradual self-development of internalization has differed Zao’s artistic style from those of the Western art masters, making himself a distinguished yet crucial member of post-war Abstractionism. Zao has went through stages of different styles during his artistic career, from the "Klee" period, which mainly consisted geometric representational still lifes or landscapes, to the text symbols with strong symbolic connotations in the mid-1950s, and to a gradual reduce of symbols after the year 1958, in the meanwhile transformed to a much sheerer and purer expression of formal elements. Eventually after the 60s, Zao’s works had fully turned into abstract paintings. 7.8.65 (Lot 165), painted in 1965, with its special colour scheme and spatial awareness, illustrates the most mature and conclusive style of the artist. Moreover, it stands for the embodiment of the perfect integration of Oriental aesthetics and Western Modernism over the time and space.
The Milky Way in the colour of lake water covers the sky in the early morning, a golden pillar of sunlight comes out of a red basin; lie down leisurely careless of the official business, the everlasting poetics need to be elaborated.
-Yang Juyuan, Tang dynasty, Seeing Zhang Xiaobiao the Official Collator off to Hangzhou
Most of Zao’s paintings of the mid-1960s shows yellowish-brown as the dominant tone, yet in 7.8.65, the work is constructed by the contrastingly striking yellow and dark red colour. The taupe and reddish-brown in the background, move forward layer by layer, as if the sea and the skyline. The layers of bright yellow and dark red tend to depict the radiant light, resembling the moment of the rising sun breaking through the clouds. The fine brushstrokes of bright yellow and black intercross with each other in the centre of the picture, which bring about a sense of intensity and tension. As what is mentioned by Zao: "I’ve been exploring the technique of Western oil painting, and not until 1965 did I finally managed to handle it with great facility. My way of using brush was benefited from Chinese calligraphy. My fingers and wrist are flexible, so that I don’t hold the brush like the foreigners do." The motion presented in the picture derives from the solid training of calligraphy during Zao’s childhood. Together with thirty years of skilled experience of the Western medium, the texture and layer of the oils have successfully delivered his passion and ideology in art. At the time when the brush touches the canvas, the direction of the lines and the pace of brush wielding construct a changing narrative, as if a glimpse of the setting or time sequence. 7.8.65 as well suggests the evolvement of time and space. Either the interconnection of the lines, or the clash of the surface or colour blocks, indicates the conflict or harmony between the formal elements. From the overlapping layers in the centre to the colours at the edges, tensions can be seen all over the picture. It allows the viewers to gain a deeper resonance while interpreting the painting freely.
Concept of "Immersing in the Nature" in the Oriental Landscape
When Zao just arrived in Paris, he was reluctant to paint with ink-a medium that is often considered to be a representation of the Oriental Culture. Nevertheless, with his further exploration of abstract style, he gradually returned to the nature of traditional Chinese aesthetics, using pure abstraction to show his understanding towards the landscape paintings of Tang and Song dynasties. An aesthetician Zong Baihua argues that, "The differences in the sense of space reflect the diversified world views and the most vivid life experiences of certain nationality, era, class in various economic bases and social conditions." In the treatise Linquan Gaozhi (Lofty Records of Forest and Streams), it mentions that, "The preparation of painting need to be immersed wholly into the nature, and should show a comprehensive understanding of the objects’ principles, which include looking up at the mountain top, the back of the hills, and the distant mountains, having an overall look of the nature, which ranges from the four seasons, day and night, wind and rain, bright and dark, and various perspectives." Zao Wou-Ki inherits this point of view in his works. In 7.8.65, the centre of composition goes from high above to deep inside, from deep to close and then horizontally extends to the further perspective, laying out the flow and transition. The bright yellow traverses the picture, as if there’s no starting or ending point. The colouring at the top and bottom resembles the infinitely continuous skyline, echoes the saying in the Book of Changes, "‘There is no going away so that there shall not be a return’ refers to this as the point where the interaction of heaven and earth takes place." And this is the unique spatial awareness of Chinese aesthetics. The interconnected lines and overlapping layers of colours are not occasional arrangements, but deliberate expression of the artist, based on his observation of the movements and psychological experiences. The artist employed the change of perspectives to convey the concept of space between heaven and earth. He turned the personal feelings and experiences into elemental arrangement, and so that the dots, lines and surfaces were consistently moving. Zao probed into the traditional Chinese philosophy and concept of the nature. He constructed the essence of nature in the landscape with abstract forms, and thus has rendered the image full of spatial vitality.
The Emotional Tension of Western Hues
Zao Wou-Ki once said that, "During these last few years, I've been able to let go and just paint, following my feelings, because problems at the technical level no longer exist. I paint whatever interests me. Large-scale paintings mean that I have to wrestle with space: I not only have to fill it; I have to give it life and inject myself completely into it. I want to express a sense of movement: sometimes winding, and lingering, sometimes as fast as lightning; I want to make use of contrasts and all the vibrations within a single colour to give the canvas vitality. I want to find a central point that sends out rays of light." In his autobiography, upon the completion of furnishing of his new studio in the year 1963, the only light of the studio sources from the North. The steady light source allowed him to have a better handling of the colours’ nuances. In the piece 7.8.65, the colours make up an intense expressive language. Bright yellow is set off against black and dark red, as if a brilliant flash of light, which indicates the location of the light source. Within the chiaroscuro and colour graduation, the audience is able to move forward or backward in a zigzag way. The tension built up in the centre of the picture is like a spotlight, which creates a sense of dramatic stage effect. In the varied lightness, Zao Wou-Ki came up with a visual depth of focus that is rich in variations. With the help of the penetration and reflection of light, he highlighted the details ranging from clear to blurry. In the gradual changes of hues, he constructed a sense of space fell in between the illusory and the real.
"Today [I] happen to paint satisfyingly without going out of the house. I feel like sitting inside the mountain springs and valleys, hearing the calling of apes and birds, and the dazzling lakes and hills in my eyes, altogether gives man a sense of self-actualization, and it is as well the reason why people love landscape paintings."
-Guo Xi, Linquan Gaozhi
Since the 1950s, Zao Wou-Ki had consistently sought for breakthroughs upon his continuation with Oriental aesthetics, which was manifested in the transformation of both external spatial composition and internal creating concept. 7.8.65 not only inherits the special concepts concerning spatial awareness of traditional Chinese painting, but furthermore integrates the expressive hues of the West. In the juxtaposition and correspondence of the dynamic lines and static space, the spiritual characteristics of traditional landscape has been fully absorbed into the picture. Due to the cosmology of "a thousand miles apart but as if near at hand" and "taking the heaven and earth as house" in Chinese convention, seeing a piece of landscape painting is as if looking into the nature. Together with the Western medium, the dots, lines and surfaces in 7.8.65 succeeded in creating a "dazzling scene of lakes and hills", which can be regarded as an epitomized masterpiece of Zao’s thirty years of stylistic transformation.