Painted in 1965
oil on canvas
46.3 x 50.5 cm. (18 1/4 x 20 in.)
Private Collection, France
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 4 October 2010, Lot 272
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
HKD 5,500,000 - 7,500,000
USD 705,128 - 961,538
- Sold Price
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
"I don't purposely seek 'tranquility' in my paintings; perhaps that is just the natural result of their expression. Actually I have many internal conflicts and dramatic tensions, but you just don't see them on the outside. I do think about those ancient masters, however, for they go deep into the nature with their emotions, not just to entre the shell blankly or weakly. They focused all their energy on penetrating inside and then successfully captured the nature. My artworks are not just about rending burst of 'movement' on the surface; instead, I want to appropriately present both emotionality and rationality, which can be seen as a kind of internal 'movement'.
Maybe that's what gives people the impression of 'tranquility'. And maybe that's also the way I am!"
Since 1959, Zao Wou-Ki began developing an entirely new interpretive vocabulary, leaving behind the use of titles or of pre-existing elements to structure his works. The sense of tension and depth displayed by the space itself fascinated him, and he found that, "I don't have to paint like I did before, showing objects or symbolic motifs in the space. There doesn't have to be any dividing line between colours and symbols, and I've become aware of the matter of spatial depth through using different combinations of colours." His own solid background in traditional Chinese culture became part of his paintings, but by contrast with his earlier "oracle-bone" period, with its written-character motifs that were so clearly Chinese-inspired, Zao Wou-Ki's pure abstract landscapes from the '60s would show some changes: firm lines now coexist with softer ones, giving full expression to the beauty and rhythmic motion of curving lines, and his work naturally exudes a much more lyrical character. Borrowing traditional Chinese ink-wash techniques of brush control and introducing the appeal of calligraphic brushwork, he achieved a masterful balance as he explored a stylistic merging of the Eastern and Western aesthetics.
Composition en bleu 8.1.65 (Lot 166), created in 1965, joins the Western media with an Eastern aesthetic viewpoint. While vigorously pursuing the expressiveness of texture in the oil medium, the composition employs the scatter perspective often found in traditional Chinese landscapes. Zao deliberately leaves empty space in the upper and lower parts of the canvas, evoking an idea put forward by Zhuangzi, in a Taoist context, that "empty spaces give rise to white light." The viewer's gaze is thus directed toward the centre of the image, further highlighting Zao's exquisite arrangement of lines while also producing the same kind of foreground, middle ground, and background as in a Chinese landscape painting. As Zao Wou-Ki noted, "I also strive in my paintings for freedom in spatial relationships. My viewpoint is the same as in those Chinese paintings that have multiple, shifting viewpoints. I would not use single-point perspective in my paintings. I expect to evoke an open, tranquil, and harmonious ambience, a kind of pleasing composure in my art." Structuring of the background space in Composition en bleu 8.1.65 is achieved with mostly horizontal brushstrokes, which helped fix the imagery of Zao's work in the '60s, with its emphasis on flowing colour. These are accompanied by a smaller number of vertical strokes, in some cases with paint that freely flows or drips at the edges. The stronger, more intense and fine brushstrokes of black at the centre rise above and dominate the balanced colours there, while Zao perfectly pointed out the light source of the centre through the use of white oil paint.
Zao Wou-Ki's handling of his pictorial space consistently centred around a multi-layered application of colour and the textural quality of wet and dry oils, which he employed to create a rich and deep spatial ambience. In Composition en bleu 8.1.65, which is mainly composed by Prussian blue tones, we discover traces of other balanced colours such as inky green and dark yellow, which mix with brighter white pigments to produce the light and shadow variations within the limited space on the canvas. The application of black oil paint further heightens the depth of shadow in the space, while a tightly-woven structure is produced in the central area with a mix of fast and slow motion of brushstrokes. The strong but fine lines and the variations of texture call to mind the way traditional Chinese landscape painters handled the texture of rocks and boulders; these lines produce a compactly unified force toward the centre but a sense of expansion as the stretch toward the outside, suggesting complex emotional tensions within the distribution of balanced colours. Even as Zao Wou-Ki began reinventing and reinterpreting his personal artistic vocabulary since the 1960s, he extended the long tradition of Eastern sensibility that was in his blood. While no longer expressed by means of concrete symbols or motifs, his art achieved a genuine and meaningful union of East and West. His works, embodying the essence of traditional landscape paintings, have established new milestones in Chinese abstract art.