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

John Way (1921-2012)
Vitreous Enamel(Painted in 2000)

Mixed media on canvas

107.8 × 91.5 cm. 42 1/2 × 36 in.

Signed in English and dated on bottom right

2001, John Way Retrospective - 80 Years, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, p. 268
17 - 31 Aug 2001, John Way Retrospective - 80 Years, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai

Important Private Collection, Asia

Like Pan Gu Separating the Sky from the Earth
Like the Earth Breeding all Living Things

Chinese Pioneering Abstract Artist John Way’s Masterpiece Vitreous Enamel 

Zhang Daqian once lamented: “It is not easy to hold art exhibitions in Boston.” However, in 1965, John Way’s work was exhibited in the Painting Without a Brush exhibition held by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, equaling many contemporary Western masters such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Hans Hartung. As the first generation of Chinese abstract painters sojourning in the United States, John Way’s name has been known in the West for a long time. Born in a literary family in Shanghai in 1921, Way studied Chinese calligraphy and inscriptions since childhood. He held an exhibition at 16 to raise funds for saving China. After settling in Boston in 1945, he was inspired by the flourishing trend of abstractionism in the United States, which he viewed as the closest intersection of Eastern and Western art. Hence, he applied vigorous and primitive brushwork, grounded in Chinese culture, in his painting to blend calligraphy and abstract expressionism. Way’s works have been included in the International Art Dictionary, printed on stamps by the Swiss government several times, and collected in the White House, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Shanghai Art Museum, and other important institutions.

In 1970, Way’s creation entered an important breakthrough phase, in which he invoked enamel collage for the first time. He said: “The enamel technique is created by the Russians in the 14th century. I combine the spirit of Chinese calligraphy, structure of American abstract art, colours of impressionism in the 19th century, and two different kinds of material on the canvas. This kind of work has never been created.” The use of enamel collage enabled his paintings to be free from two-dimensionality and to have a three-dimensional sense, which is also a masterpiece in his later years. Only a dozen pieces belong to this series in his lifetime creation and are thus particularly rare. The Enamel Series, coming to be offered in this auction, is one of the most significant works of the series.

In the sky where the sun seems to be rising, the thunderous black oil colours descend like lightning, like Pan Gu separating the sky and earth. Way creatively diluted the red and black colours and used the “penetrating technique” of ink and wash to create a natural flowing and spreading effect on the canvas with western oil paint. The rough orange and gold colours under the sky condense into a majestic earth full of tenacious strength, and the ochre-coloured ravines spread arbitrarily, showing a strong “epigraphic taste” in calligraphy with compelling abstract heavy colours. In the centre of the painting, a square brown enamel decorated with red and white colours is inlaid like a coloured stone used by Nüwa to mend the sky falling into the earth, shining with a mysterious and solemn spiritual light. This work was painted when Way was nearly 80 years old, representing his admirable, booming energy in artistic creation in his old age.

Price estimate:
HKD: 40,000 – 80,000
USD: 5,100 – 10,200

Auction Result:
HKD: 50,400



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