In the canon of art history, Chu Teh-Chun’s abstraction is a grand epic poem. The artist devoted his entire life to uniting the East and the West. Using the canvas as a furnace, and oil colour as steel, he forged the magnificent bell whose intense and bright resonation was the sound of Asia. Chu Teh-Chun’s abstractionism is the crystallization of Asian and European civilization. His artistic concepts are traceable to Wu Dayu’s Dynamic Expressionism, while his brushwork contains the valour of Pan Tianshou, his poeticism the warmth of Lin Fengmian. Since leaving his homeland and travelling to the West in 1955, Chu Teh-Chun naturally adopted many of the artistic characteristics of the Western masters. In his work, one can see the symphonic compositions of Kandinsky, the orderly geometric shapes of Nicolas de Staël, the dynamic tension between light and dark of Rembrandt. These influences helped rouse and invigorate Chu Teh-Chun, such that as the artist immersed himself in the postwar movement of Abstract Expressionism in Paris, his deep-rooted Eastern sensibilities developed into the vast and prodigious spirit that grew to be recognized around the world. On the international auction market, acquiring one of Chu Teh-Chun’s abstract paintings from the 1960s is a rare enough occasion. But the opportunity of acquiring a masterpiece from the 1950s, over 100 cm in length, is one that has only emerged around ten times in the past thirty years. Rouge lourd et vert leger (Lot 1035), whether in size, composition, colour, or grace, clearly merits its status as a representative of Chu Teh-Chun’s early abstraction period. Indeed it is a testament to the Chinese-French master’s days at the vanguard.
“Color is a power which directly influences the soul.”
The 1950s were a time in which the Eastern and Western art worlds grew toward a deep understanding of one another, an era in which both were attempting to find and forge new artistic paths. The Post-War Asian artists continued upon the foundation of their predecessors’ early explorations of the West, striving alongside the great masters from countries around the world. The Post-War Western artists similarly explored the culture of their Eastern counterparts, hoping to gain inspiration from the ancient traditions of calligraphy and philosophy. Abstract painting, then, became the ideal platform for the two sides to interact and intersect. It also served, for these Eastern and Western Post-War artists, as a common and mutually constructed language. In Rouge lourd et vert leger, through Chu Teh-Chun’s language of abstraction, the viewer is able to experience the profound dialogue between East and West. The painting’s composition is rigorous yet lively. Using a large horizontal canvas, the artist has designed a partition, creating an arrangement that resembles a taichi symbol. The top half of the tableau is rich and refined, the lines and blocks of colour mutually intermingling. The bottom half, on the other hand, is boldly left blank, allowing a large expanse of the coral background to come face-to-face with the viewer. This arrangement fully communicates the Taoist wonder of the real and the unreal. At the same time, those who are familiar with Western abstraction will notice how the abstract composition of the upper half is the artist’s contemplation of and response to Kandinsky’s abstract compositions. Using brushstrokes saturated with rich colour, Chu Teh-Chun brandishes his artistic sword to create vigorous and bold lines, composing an immense conical shape that nevertheless hangs in suspension. Like a fully drawn bow, it is charged with an accumulation of boundless strength. Within the inescapable trap of the bowstring, numerous gems are generating. There are large and small emeralds, red rubies, and coloured diamonds, all emerging encircled in a halo of light at the centre-left of the painting. Swirling around, they then leap out, as though these limpid, coloured gems are illuminating the heavens and earth in a permeating dusk of red. These gem-like squares carry the spirit of the French-Russian abstractionist Nicolas de Staël. While the proud and aloof de Staël, however, rendered the blocks of colours in his paintings with a heaviness and a syncopated appearance, Chu Teh-Chun’s poetic disposition, gentle and smooth as jade, has refined de Staël’s dark and heavy blocks into soaring coloured stones, regarding life’s challenges as elevating and magnificent steps. And within the vast and universe of the abstract, his poetic Milky Way turns to song. It is worth noting that while Chu Teh-Chun was creating these gems, he had already began implementing a scraping technique, such that different oil colours were layered and then mixed together. The German master Gerhard Richter would only begin treating large surface areas of his abstract canvases in this way in the 1980s and 1990s. Chu Teh-Chun’s talent and prescient instincts were indeed one of a kind.
Rouge lourd et vert leger was created in 1959, an important year for the artist in establishing his foundation in the Parisian art world. It was then that the artist’s virtuosity was recognized by the Galerie H. Le Gendre, who signed a five-year contract with him. The artist, who had initially planned on staying in France for only a brief period while he completed his studies, was thus given an opportunity for a more significant stay and the potential to develop his career abroad. And because of the gallery’s long-term exhibition of his works, Chu Teh-Chun’s work was continuously on view to the public. A label from the Galerie H. Le Gendre is still attached to the back of the painting, a historic testament to the artist’s relationship with the gallery, his entrance into the Parisian art world, and the beginning of his illustrious career. After completing this work, the artist followed it with another painting with a similar composition, Rouge, la pluie de petals sur le village. Blanc, le nuage au-dessus de la maison, which momentously opened the door to his style of the 1960s. As a symbol of the Asian artist’s plunge into the depths of the postwar Western art world, whether from the perspective of art history, or the artist’s individual development, this painting is of profound representative significance.
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