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2023 Autumn Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014)
No.92(Painted in 1961)

Gouache on paper

35.7 × 54.3 cm. 14 × 21 3/8 in.

Signed in Chinese and English on bottom right; signed in English and Chinese, titled and dated on the reverse
30 Mar 2019, China Guardian Hong Kong Spring Auction, Lot 710
Acquired directly by present important private Asian collector from the above

Painted Poetry, Traversing a Boundless World
Chu Teh-Chun's Melodies on Paper Traveling East and West

“Poetry is intangible painting, while painting is poetry made concrete.” For master Chinese abstract painter Chu Teh-Chun, his immersion in a Millennia of Chinese history and experience of living in France for half a century, meant that as the artist sought to transcend the forms and colours of East and West, he simultaneously developed a much deeper appreciation of the way in which poetry, painting and calligraphy are integrated in Eastern art. From the oil paintings on canvas, Chu produced when he first arrived France in the 1950s to his use of paper as a medium in the 1960s and 1970s, he developed effects associated with oil, gouache and ink painting. At the same time, through the way in which Chu transformed calligraphic brushwork into abstract strokes, to his masterful combination of colour and stroke strength, he also created a world of imagination that fully embraced nature, poetry and melody. Chu Teh-Chun traced the origins of the rhythm of Chinese ink art and expanded the aesthetic spectrum of form, so that at the age of 40 he was finally able to launch his own inimitable aesthetic based on light sources, images and metre.

Three works on paper by Chu Teh-Chun from the 1960s and 1970s are being auctioned. Each one has its own hues, media and compositional forms. In addition, Chu employs imposing poetic imagery such as a thousand mountains and twilight snow, slowly unfolding dawns, riverside maples and fishermen's lights, combined with the inspiration accumulated by from spending two decades moving between Western expression and tradition, as revealed in the mental imagery showcased in the scroll paintings.

Transcendent Thousand Mountains and Twilight Snow

In 1960, Chu officially became a member of the “Ecole de Paris” and held a solo exhibition at Galerie Legendre, a gallery in the French capital that at the time mainly promoted abstract art, which was well received by local art and cultural circles. It was after visiting a Nicolas de Stael retrospective exhibition in 1956 that Chu's art started to evolve from largely representational to abstract pieces, with his abstract painting style reaching maturity in the 1960s. Whether the exploration of oil painting, or the combination of ink art and gouache painting on paper, Chu introduced new and intriguing ideas. The gouache work No. 92 (Lot 37) is an exquisite example, exuding the rhythms of Chinese ink painting and imagery of natural landscapes.

Gouache works showcase the smudging effect of water-based pigments on paper, utilizing the purity of simple clarity and approximate colours to create eastern painting associations such as cloud like fog and undulating mountains, while showcasing lyrical imagery reminiscent of Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) poetry: “Flying under ten thousand li of layered clouds, across a thousand mountains in deep snow.” In this period Chu Teh-Chun greatly strengthened the “calligraphy” features of his abstract expressionism, imbuing “wild scribble” type black lines with a calligraphic spirit that penetrated to the other side of the paper. Indeed, the strength of character of the artist's freehand brushwork and lyricism moves freely throughout the centre of the work, constructing strong and continuous precipices and overhanging rocks. Moreover, in the background Chu employs an elegant grey-blue to craft a natural scene with the blowing north wind and light snowfall, introducing a breathing space that brims with coldness and coolness through the unconscious flying brush strokes and blank spaces. Within the freedom provided by this layout, the artist employs spiritually refined shades of grey and freehand strokes to display image tension in the natural scene and objects depicted, like a flying jade dragon or the boundlessness of Kunlun.

Diverse Combinations, Lighting up the Universe

French poet and art critic Jean-Clarence Lambert once described Chu Teh-Chun as “an artist who resembles fire, with an atmosphere and fire that when combined with indescribably mysterious elements and the appeal of his character make him unique in the Paris School.” Moreover, this evaluation dovetails perfectly with the world showcased in the work Sans Titre (Lot 38), in which the blazing fire of hope and passion are infused with a flickering vital force and the infinite gradations of Taoist Yin and Yang.

In this work, the coordination and coexistence of red and black as “Yin” and “Yang” creates an exquisite tension and contrast. The diagonal structure divides the piece in half, into juxtaposed worlds of light and dark and the rhythm of the piece flows so the colours seep into each other. This brings to mind the magnificence of “sky and earth gathering heavenly splendor,” wherein bearing and geography determine light and shade, in the poem Mountain Gazing by Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu (712-770). Moreover, the exquisite light and shade in the picture is like the side exposure of a spotlight on stage, with the main characters representing good and evil deliberately separate, highlighting an imaginary space imbued with drama. This also showcases the deep and lasting influence the Rembrandt Retrospective exhibition in 1969 had on this work, which was painted in the 1970s. The right of the painting is cast in vigorous black ink brush strokes and their weight gives rise to all possibilities in the world of darkness. Moving left across the work, the flying short strokes in light yellow, golden yellow, orange, rose red and ocher stir up wonderful brilliance and from within the abstract territory viewers can see the image of what appears to be a volcano erupting, lava spurting in all directions or a red sun rising in the East.

Pulsating Life of Black and Red

The colour black represents mystery, the unknown and shadow, while red symbolizes blazing fire, vividness and brightness, from which Russian artist Mark Rothko once crafted spiritual, abstract coloured-blocks. However, in the works of Chu Teh-Chun, black is replete with the dancing rhythms of ink painting and richness of oil painting, as well as the vibrance inherent in free-flowing Chinese brushwork, Western colour and form. The two complement each other and are evenly matched in showcasing the harmony of heaven and earth, as we view the ancient Yin Yang icon, which contains hidden within it the coexistence of all things between chaos and awakening. Despite taking duality as a base, they are also all-encompassing, representing boundless change and resonating with abstract expression. Within this symphony of “colour and strength,” the limited space of the work explores the breadth of consciousness, using rich natural imagination to draw forth poetry from deep inside the heart of the artist.

Price estimate:
HKD 300,000 – 400,000
USD 38,500 – 51,300

Auction Result:
HKD: --



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