1953, the irreversible leap into abstraction
Pluie is a key work in the career of Zao Wou-Ki. Kept in the same French collection for over five decades, this atmospheric painting reveals more than any other the shift in paradigm that took place in the artist's painting at the beginning of the 1950s. At a time when he was discovering Europe and in particular Switzerland, where he saw for the first time an important group of works by Paul Klee, whose internal universe perfectly resonated with his own sensibility, Zao Wou-Ki turned to abstraction never to look back.
In the winter of 1953 to 1954, Zao Wou-Ki broke definitively with naturalism. Proportions were stretched, perspective disappeared in favor of a subtle play of light and shade, shifts in scale created a new sense of depth. "My painting, he said, has become illegible. Still-lifes and flowers no longer exist. I am tending towards an imaginary, indecipherable script."
Indeed if the title of the work (Pluie) spurs us still to look in this composition for the figurative echoes still perceivable in "Cathedrals" or "Fishing Scenes" from 1951 and 1952, the artist's painting has taken a definitive turn towards abstraction.Beyond this development towards a more lyrical and metaphysical painting, "Pluie" is also emblematic of Zao Wou-Ki's marvelous work on signs, as the motif is at the heart of his canvases, more "signified" than "represented". During these years when he acquired international recognition, and his work was exhibited not only in France but also in Bern, Geneva, Rome, Milan or New York, the shift towards complete abstraction took place indeed through "signs conceived of as supports for this break from appearances." It is important to note that, as Jean Leymarie explains very clearly in his book on the artist, "these invented signs do not, as is generally believed, proceed from calligraphy which for Zao Wou-Ki remained a form of writing with its own rules and legible meaning, but refer to more ancient and mysterious sources, the archaic inscriptions engraved fifteen or ten centuries before our era on the divinatory bones and ritual bronzes of the Chang dynasty. These testimonies to an enigmatic and captivating beauty."
Through these perfectly intelligible signs in "Pluie", Zao Wou-Ki thus gave tribute to to diverse and ancient pictorial genres, in keeping not only with the painting of his time but also the great history of art.
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