Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2015 Autumn Auctions
20th Century and Contemporary Chinese Art

ZAO WOU-KI (1921-2013)

Oil on canvas

81 x 65cm.31 7/8 x 25 5/8 in.

Signed in Chinese and ’ZAO’ in English on lower right; signed and titled in English on the reverse

LITERATURE Jean Leymarie,Zao Wou-ki•Hier et Demain,Barcelona,Spain,1978,p.301;

Rizzoli International Publications,New York,U.S,Zao Wou-Ki,1979,p.301;

Cercle d’Art,Barcelona,Spain,Zao Wou-Ki,1986,p.341;

PROVENANCE Galerie Heimeshoff,Essen,Germany;

Private Collection,Europe;

Sotheby’s Hong Kong,3 October 2011,Lot744,

Acquired from the above auction by the present owner.

NOTE This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist’s espouse.

Zao Wou-Ki’s color paintings were quite significant. He infused his comprehension of art into these free and light ink brushes. At “Transformation period,” his experience in ink painting reflected his oil painting,taking him to a more profound and higher level. “4.8.74” is a piece created in his “transformation period” in 1974. In 1973 Zao Wou-Ki picked up oil painting after not painting for a year and half because of his wife’s death. He experienced unconscious changes in his painting style. As described in “Zao Wou-Ki’s Self-Portrait”:“I know that my painting style has changed since 1973 because my friends often talk or write about it. Perhaps I became mature then while all the past efforts paid off. I liked painting more and I have more to talk about. I am afraid of self-repetition. I draw my life but I also draw a space invisible to the eyes,a dreamy space,and a place providing harmony for anyone,even using a form filled with power and contradiction. Each painting is part of the space.”

In this “4.9.74,” Zhao Wou-Ki started breaking through the original layout and shifted from concentration to dispersion,from confrontation to evacuation,resulting in a “central hallow” structure. The composition therefore becomes richer and variant,which distinguished highly from the structure of “Ridge” in the 60s. Zao weakened the contrast between colors,overlapping yellow,white,light blue and light green to create a subtly varying color. The solitary view appeals depth in tranquility like blank space in traditional Chinese painting. The ink floating on the upper part corresponds with the rolling ink colors on the lower part,which blends in more ink painting features. This year Zao Wou-Ki has created works with the same composition and manifestation approach. “2.3.74” shows that the composition of such painting was a new look gradually developed from in-depth study.

Zao Wou-Ki adored Mi Fu when he was young and his lyric abstract oil painting also absorbed the presentation of misty Jiangnan by Mi Fu and his son. Zao had travelled all his life before returning to China in 1970 where he had left for more than 20 years. This trip added oriental characteristics to his painting. In “2.3.74”,brushes flow and stack with density-varying layers,leading to a sense of tranquility. Zao Wou-Ki appreciated Mi Fu’s arrangement for space and used ink brushes to break the norms. He also paid respect to poetic landscape via seemingly still space.

In view of “2.3.74,” Zao Wou-Ki shifted among time and space freely,entering into a virtual state at this time. Zao Wou-Ki stated:“I think that spilling painting is a Chinese invention. I could see the birth of space,forming or dissolving with my fantasy,leaving perception infinite of relaxation. I feel life is easier and the happiness brought by these actions far surpass the traces left by memories.” This approach of presenting the virtual world through relaxing actions reminds one of the American abstract expressionism. Nonetheless it is not difficult to discover the profound impact of ink painting and calligraphy when tracing back the origin of the two. Zao has successfully applied Western abstract expression to convey the “meditation philosophy” of China so that he could differentiate from any western artist in the massive trend of abstract expressionism,and thereby establishing his position as a master.

Price estimate:
HKD:4,800,000 - 6,800,000
USD:619,200 - 887,400

Auction Result:



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