Chu Teh-Chun’s Exquisite Snow Scene
A sprightly dance of swirling snow
By 1980, Chu Teh-Chun’s fame had already scaled new heights. At that time, Hubert Juin, a specialist in 19th-century French literature, had published his tome Chu Teh-Chun, generating much debate and discussion on the artist. There were countless invitations to exhibit both in France and beyond. In 1984, Chu’s large-scale oil paintings were displayed at Luxembourg, at the Theatre Municipal in Esch-sur-Alzette. The following winter, Chu was invited by Geneva’s Galerie Pierre Huber to participate in a joint exhibition highlighting five abstract painters. The Swiss journey brought forth a fortuitous transformation in Chu’s creative career. After the Geneva exhibition, Chu returned by train to Paris; en route, he became enraptured by the highest peak in Western Europe: Montblanc. At that moment a winter storm was developing, the expansive landscape covered by layer upon layer of snow, the air teeming with swirling, drifting flurries. Although ensconced in a train compartment, Chu was mesmerized by such natural wonder, absorbing it without blinking an eye. Upon returning home, before he could sleep, he created the diptych Winter, capturing on canvas his deeply felt emotions for the wintery landscape. This diptych heralded the beginning of the artist’s “snow series”, an emblem of his examination of such natural phenomena.
Between 1985 and 1990, Chu Teh-Chun created a series of winter landscapes, all dominated by manifold shades of white. Looking at his extant oeuvre, only a scant number of paintings belong to the “snow series”, most of which is currently in the possession of private collectors or the artist himself. Snow Scene on offer was included in the Chun Teh-Chun 88 Retrospective at Taipei’s National History Museum in 2008. It is an early example of Chu’s “snow series”.
A timeless dream that soars
This richly textured painting captures Chu Teh-Chun’s outstanding creative prowess. Apart from upholding the lineage of traditional splashing, sprinkling, dripping and flowing in Chinese ink painting, Chu also incorporated the aesthetics of “water stains on the wall” in capturing movement, adding his own creation of “spinning the brush”: through vigorous movement, the artist created flying specks of white snow, enlivening the canvas in the process. Chu’s brushwork is smooth and fluid, well-defined and sharp. The dancing black lines are sometimes heavy and viscous, at other times light as feather, occasionally thin and refined, sometimes appearing in solid blocks adding volume and substance, while the overall aura reveals a profound beauty. As Hong Kong art critic Lam Tong Lin observed: “[Chu’s painting is] agile and exuberant like the vigorous dance of dragons and snakes, moving freely and winding in shapes that recall the wonders of nature, at the same time capturing emotions to its fullest.”
The use of colour here is nuanced and detailed. While the fog and mist are dominated by blues and greys, there are warm and succulent shades of jade green, cobalt and light yellow, as well as different hues of white. These colours combine like a classical minuet, with all elements in utter harmony. In the meantime, Chu’s drawing takes us through surprising emotional turns as a timeless dream roams unbounded, taking shape before our eyes.
Reinventing and deepening of abstract art both East and West
If we cast a backward glance at the history of Chinese painting, it was Gu Kaizhi (ca. 344-406) of the Northern and Southern dynasties who launched the age-old tradition of Chinese landscapes with his Viewing the Peak of the Five Elders under the Clear Sky after Snow. Although Chu’s Snow Scene is conceived in the abstract style, viewers can still detect the spirit of a landscape hidden therein. The painting is divided into foreground, middle ground and background, one layer moving into another, each compounded with rich and suggestive images. Here Chu has broken through the antagonism between abstraction and representation. Through drifting snow, he reinterprets a timeless dream that soars to heaven. The composition of Snow Scene also echoes Jing Hao’s Mount Kuanglu. Amidst Chu’s natural and instinctive technique are injections of Eastern aesthetics and the artist’s personal inspirations rooted in the vast expanse of nature. They confirm Chu’s leading position (along with Jackson Pollock) among major figures in postwar abstractionism. The French critic Gilbert Erouart once observed, “Chu Teh-Chun’s paintings find such resonance among countless art lovers because his works flow naturally out of the substance and depth of Chinese culture, they also fuse seamlessly with Western abstractionism." After half a century, Chu’s abstract paintings have reached the highest plateau of unbounded freedom, where one’s self is totally subsumed. Snow Scene is the best exemplar attesting to Chu’s personal aesthetic achievement.