Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2023 Spring Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Wang Huaiqing (b.1944)
Traces of Nature – 4 (Triptych)(Painted in 2004)

Oil on canvas

200 × 360 cm. 78 3/4 × 141 3/4 in.

Signed in Chinese on middle right of the right piece

2005, Wang Huaiqing- Traces of Nature, Yan Gallery, Hong Kong, p. 26-27
2005, ARTCO Issue 8, Taipei, backcover
2007, Art of Wang Huaiqing, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc, Taipei, p. 126-127 and 192
2010, Wang Huaiqing – A Painter's Painting in Contemporary China, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, p. 285
Aug 2005, Wang Huaiqing- Traces of Nature, Exchange Square, Hong Kong
15 Sep – 28 Oct 2007, City to City, Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei
3 – 12 Dec 2007, Traces of Nature: Art of Wang Huaiqing, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai
18 Nov 2010-10 Apr 2011, Wang Huaiqing-A Painter's Painting in Contemporary China, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle

Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei
Acquired directly by present important private Asian collector from the above

Note: An exhibition label of Taipei Lin & Keng Gallery and an exhibition label of Shanghai Art Museum are affixed on the reverse of each panel

Creating a Majestic Scene Through Rock Breaking Power
Wang Huaiqing's ‘Traces of Nature' Series Masterpiece

“The unbroken continuation of this culture is attributable to written words on paper and what is comparable to this? Red fire gives birth to black ash, vermillion red is derived from white mercury. The furnace hammer of creation is truly amazing.”
—— Song Yingxing Tiangong Kaiwu (Exploitation of the Works of Nature)

In 1637, Ming Dynasty scientist Song Yingxing published Tiangong Kaiwu (Exploitation of the Works of Nature) which is often today referred to as the first Chinese Encyclopedia, detailing how to manufacture weapons, gunpowder, bricks, textiles, paper and ink. As the above quote suggests, the reason knowledge and culture has been handed down for a Millennium is attributable to those facts being written down and recorded over time. There are the infinite changes in the cauldron of nature, so fire is red but it also creates the blackest of smoke, mercury is white but crimson vermillion red comes from it. Such things are barely imaginable but other than emphasizing the important cultural meaning of black ink and white paper, the encyclopedia also emphasizes the importance of “following nature.” As a written work Tiangong Kaiwu not only highlights the wisdom of our ancestors over millennia it also displays the roots of eastern wisdom; namely discussing the essence of things and respecting nature. For Wang Huaiqing, who came from a family of carpenters, essence and creative reflection was reflected in his experience working with wood from a young age and as a result such real life was particularly important to him.

Self-Confidence and Mastery: Traces of Nature is Like Entering a Land with No People

From 2003-2011, Wang Huaqing produced a series made up of seven works named Traces of Nature. He also recounted that this was: “the first time I have thought about the name of a Chinese book or included it in the tile of a work. The book Tiangong Kaiwu tells us in detail how people made things with their hands, but the title of the book does not mention this ‘manmade' aspect but rather only ‘Tian Gong' (work from the heavens) it does not discusses ‘making things' merely exploiting things. In this sense, the book's secret is to be found in the way it details the creation of wonderful Chinese culture.” Wang found this particularly fascinating, as can be seen from the special importance he attached to the series. On the occasion of this spring auction, we present the important triptych Traces of Nature-4, a museum quality painting and the largest piece from the series (at 200cm x 360cm). During his artistic career Wang painted no more than 25 pieces larger than 200cm x 300cm, of which this work is one, underscoring its importance. After 2000, the artist displayed the ambition and courage needed to conquer large canvases at a time when he had been painting for more than 40 years. In 1980, he was a leader in the One Generation Painting Association; in 1986 he discussed the structure, space and sentiment of ancient Chinese architecture in his Southern Chinese Homes series and in 1989 created the Ming Furniture series. By 2000, Wang was a renowned artist both at home and overseas, so much so that British art historian Michael Sullivan noted with praise that: “the depth and ingenuity of the artist's creative form and thought are extraordinary.” Seattle Museum Director Derrick Cartwright lauded Wang as: “one of the most outstanding living Chinese artists.” As his creative work entered a period of self-confidence, and self-mastery Wang Huaiqing's painting expression became bolder as he sought to further transcend two dimensions and continue his pursuit of “spirituality.” Renowned art critic Jia Fangzhou observed that the “milestone” work Traces of Nature-4 was born at this juncture.

The Breathtaking Tension of Black: Refined Eastern Aesthetic Spirit

“Wang Huaiqing wisely locates the starting point for his art in traditional cultural resources ... he does not hesitate to abandon the advantages of oil painting in terms of colour and focus instead on monotone black, highlighting an artistic appeal that is distinctively Chinese ... Through his own industriousness, impressive command of the oeuvre and by explaining profound ideas through simple individualized methods, he successfully translates the Chinese tradition of unity and coherence in writing into a contemporary context, a truly splendid and outstanding achievement.”
—— Art critic Jia Fangzhou

In Traces of Nature-4, Wang Huaiqing dispenses with the bright variegated colours of Western oil painting, condensing them down to the minimalism of black, white and coffee colour. Indeed, in this piece, most of the work is taken up by the breathtaking black. Where this differs from the two-dimensional monochrome processing of black blocks in the majority of Wang's works in the 1990s, such as Gold Stone, is that in this painting the black covers a large area with a few white brushstrokes, layered and freely painted, highlighting marks made by the movement of the brush and the layered sense of texture. Although the work is primarily black, the artist creates a richness and dramatic tension feast for the eyes through the different directionality, the weight or speed, solidity or lightness of the strokes. For example, we can clearly see the rapid hasty strokes in the upper part of the left piece revolving between the movement of left and right falling strokes, which as with the torrent of waterfalls and flowing springs creates a strong charm. Artist Dong Shaw-hwei observed: “The character of the black lines created by Wang Huaiqing contains hidden within it a life energy that comes from tenacity and the will to live. As with the ‘rough marks left by an artisan chopping down a giant tree with an axe' the painter captures on the canvas and re-presents the folk wisdom and aesthetics that flash into the head of the artisan from distant primitive and simple life conditions, and an historical invocation of life care.” The strips of black in the painting resemble axe marks, an indication of the process by which the work was created and the artist's powerful life will.

Thoughts From Past to Present: Connecting Tradition to a Contemporary Context

Within the lines viewers can imagine the hands and body of the artist twisting and moving, how he breathes as the brush meets the canvas and records his huge emotions. Starting with “black,” we break into a meditative space and it is like seeing the historical records written in densely compact text to which Sima Qian dedicating his entire life. Through the brushwork of Wang Huaiqing, which is sometimes fierce and unreasonable other times reserved and introverted, we find ourselves facing nostalgia over a Millennium of changes to Chinese calligraphy. It is almost like viewing the edges and corners of oracle bone script from the Yin-Shang Dynasty, the twists and turns of seal characters from the Qin Dynasty or feeling the weight of epigraphy, as if the vigorous and majestic brushwork of Yan Zhenqing (709-785) or the unrestrained freedom of divine-cursive writer Zhang Xu (675-750). Through his use of “black,” Wang connects to the artistic and calligraphic core of Chinese aesthetics, while also “successfully transferring the Chinese traditional unity and coherence in writing into a contemporary context,” thereby infusing it with new life, a sentiment echoed in the words of the artist: “For more than 40 years I have immersed myself in ‘black' and within that I have striven to find human ‘warmth,' ‘distance' of thought and ‘emptiness' of spirit. This is perhaps the afterglow of Chinese ink made from pine soot by our ancestors or the rumbling echo in a valley as wise men explore the world in which we live ...” Through the different postures and expressions of “black” in Traces of Nature-4 Wang uses the thinking and spirit of his audience to break through the bounds of physicality and reality, passing through time and space, reaching from past to present, and in so doing reaches a plane of freedom.

Revealing an Eastern World View: Respect for Nature and the Ultimate Pursuit of Creating

In addition, Wang Huaiqing also ingeniously differentiates between “real and virtual” black. If we meditate on this approach, it is possible to identify an undulating mountain range filled with thick dense black and an oval shape that resembles the sun or moon in the lower left and right center of the work. These differ from the layered strokes beyond infused with a sense of momentum, and instead exude the tranquil strength of stability. This natural imagery also speaks to the epiphany Wang received from Tiangong Kaiwu and a uniquely Eastern view of the world, namely that Mankind and nature do not exist in “juxtaposition” as in the Western world view, but rather coexist in harmony wherein Heaven, Earth, and I were produced together, and all things and I are one, a sentiment that infuses the work with profound meaning.

Axe-Cut Engraved White: A Burst of Immutable Spiritual Strength

In Traces of Nature-I produced in 2003, Wang Huaiqing portrays many wooden objects and a mortise and tenon structure interspersed horizontally and vertically. From these “mortise and tenon” joints we see the powerful values and meaning of the artist's Chinese culture as a crystallization of ancient wisdom. From the 1990s, Wang consistently depicted ‘mortise and tenon” joints, from representational to abstract, two dimensional to three dimensional. In Traces of Nature-I (2004) he took this a step further by transforming the structure from two dimensions into an “iconic” and “spiritual” expression and in the process forged a new creative path.

The unbroken undulating white line in the painting extends from left to right, top to bottom, the concave and convex shapes resembling a mortise and tenon structure, in that they fit together, support each other but are also infused with a degree of flexibility. However, the white lines in the painting are not hard and straight, but rather each one rises, falls and is curved with intermittent breathing, echoing the words of Laozi: “The most upright of things appear to bend.” In other words, they are imbued with a powerful Eastern spiritual core. Moreover, the construction of the white line has multiple layers and texture, the secret being as Wang Huaiqing explains: “The white lines are the nerves, skeleton, arteries and veins of the painting. If the white lines are painted well the work is a success, if not it fails. However, if the painting was in white it could easily be superficial, or if blank spaces were left it would feel unnatural. The lines must be fine and powerful, running through the whole work and holding it up, the axe-mark like feel of epigraphic inscriptions contrasting with the overpowering feel of the black. Moreover, the mystery of the white lines is to be found in the sideways stroke of the “axe-cut like inscription.” Wang makes the ultimate contrast, the fine and powerful white highlights the all-encompassing black and creates dramatic tension, while the coffee-coloured finishing touch adds a sense of vitality, allowing us to savor the artist's wonderful heart and mind.

Art critic Pi Daojian has said: “It is difficult to adopt such oft used concepts and terms as abstract, representational, realism or freehand to discuss the paintings of Wang Huaiqing, but one can feel that the spiritual core of his works is very much one with the spiritual culture cultivated by the philosophy of Laozi.” In Traces of Nature-4, Wang takes the ultimate creative expression of pursuing “spirituality” from Eastern “practice” as detailed in a classic literary work that has influenced generations of Chinese; the nature-following philosophy of Laozi and Zhuangzi; the varying gradations of black in Chinese calligraphy, the majesty and vicissitudes of black in Chinese architecture, and transforms them into personal abstract expression, creating something new based on the wisdom of the ancients. To the extent that this work forces us to cherish our own culture, aesthetic character and specialness when reviewing history, it is an important classic of emotional and poetic imagination left by the artist for art history.

Price estimate:
HKD: 7,500,000 – 15,000,000
USD: 955,500 – 1,910,800

Auction Result:
HKD: 8,925,000



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