“If, in appearance, the gestures I made were the same, (…) these large sheets (…) showed me a space, multiple spaces, I had never thought of. I had the feeling of becoming more free, more lucid in front of them. Sometimes, I painted silence.”
Zao Wou-Ki’s ink drawings have inspired the greatest poets. Lyrical and ethereal, elegant and mysterious, they transport us to a hypnotic elsewhere, at the crossroads of the East and the West. As in the misty Song landscapes also painted in Indian ink, Zao Wou-Ki paints the contours of a lost world emerging surreptitiously from the undulating brushstrokes.
With this impressive abstract composition, Zao Wou-Ki thus returns to the tradition of great Chinese painting whilst simultaneously breaking away from it, choosing to eliminate all narrative references from the work, depicting space in a singular and very personal fashion. Untitled, 19985 was probably painted on the floor, and is thus particularly emblematic of the artist’s constant formal research and his desire to push himself.
Zao Wou-Ki also employed a monumental format. As he explained in his “Self-portrait” written in collaboration with Françoise Marquet in 1980, this monumentality allowed him to grapple with space “in order to conquer the surface of the world”. From this battle results a surprising constellation, the void exploding from the centre and throwing the motifs out towards the edges, generating one of those fabulous “aerial and telluric landscapes” that René Char so often praised. The horizon disappears, opening up a vast territory suspended between two worlds: between thought and lived experience. “The painter’s work appears as a kind of seismograph that faithfully records the major facts of his life, his secret drives as well as his reaction to outside events, his joys, his sorrows, his revolt and his desire for peace” (Erik Verhagen, Foreword for the exhibition catalogue Zao Wou-Ki, “L’espace est silence, Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, 2018
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