oil on canvas
New York, Kleeman Galleries, Zao Wou-Ki, 1956
Zao Wou-ki loves to explore the outside world and has a vibrant curiosity towards life. His artistic inspiration emanates from his travel experience and the surrounding environment. On a visit to Switzerland, Zao saw Paul Klee's paintings in the museum. He discovered a new way of expressing himself artistically through Klee's vibrant brushstrokes and mysterious symbols in his work. On travels to Spain, he was so impressed and moved by the local customs of bullfighting as a subject matter to paint, he created two works entitled Bullfighting and Vaque (Lot 779).
In these two works, we can see Zao's two contrasting artistic languages demonstrated in the two distinctive stages of his career. Bullfighting was completed in Zao's "Klee phase" in 1953, where the viewer can see a crowd at the auditorium, a bullfighter and a bull in the arena. While in Vaque, completed in 1955, the artist threw himself wholeheartedly into creating an abstract work. He directed his artistic inspiration through personalized symbols and the integration of Chinese calligraphy, Oracle Bones inscriptions and hieroglyphs. The result was a transformation into vigorous black-ink and dark blue lines and symbols.
In this painting, the frenetic symbols flow freely and effortlessly, drawing the viewer in and communicating a message. We can see the space of the indigo purple round arch in the upper area of the painting as a bullfighting coliseum. The female bullfighter is riding a galloping horse and waving her red cape to tame the bull. There is dark blue circling outside as if there is a large throng of people hailing the bullfighter. With the varying uses of blue tones, Zao Wou-ki creates a leisurely and dreamy realm. He even wrote Whirlpool in Chinese on the back of the canvas to echo the tile of the work, representing the circle of life and death performed endlessly in this coliseum. Zao did not try to convey a story. Instead, he implies and shows us a non-representational scene, leaving interpretation wide open to the viewer.
Dominique de Villepin once made a comment on Zao's paintings: "Zao Wou-Ki's painting is inhabited by signs. Little by little he extricates them from their gangue of matter and flesh, he pursues them. Here signs are traces and impressions, betraying the deep roots of the world. It conveys the teaching of Chinese well-read men of his family, it passes on an understanding of the world, it draws its strength from the source of a mythical tradition. They are the traces left by the Creator that are the access roads to the universal."1 Indeed, we can perceive and feel the inner space of Zao Wou-ki through his works.
 Dominique de Villepin, ed., Intro the Maze of Lights, Zao Wou-Ki: 1935-2008, Kwai Fung Publishing, Hong Kong, 2010, p. 31
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