In 1981, Zao visited Zhang Daqian’s studio, where the two painters spoke freely about art and life. Zao probably found Zhang’s “splashed-ink” and “splashed-colour” techniques resonant with his own sensibilities. All these experiences inform 10.01.86. Here the painter’s elegant and vitally energetic brushwork, cosmic vision, and channelling of the miracles of nature in his composition all serve to express his untrammelled character and proclaim his allegiance to Chinese literati’s ideals of spiritual autonomy and self-sufficiency.
As his view on life changed, Zao’s painting also transformed. The assertive force of his earlier work has now dissolved into void and mist. His passionate struggles to control space are here replaced by an easy, relaxed sensibility. The painting seems as if created by nature, betraying no sign of human manipulation. The colour and brushwork show no overt assertion of intent. All these characteristics are related to Zao Wou-Ki’s reengagement with Chinese ink painting in 1972. The aesthetic sensibilities occasioned by the natural interactions between ink, paper, and the pliant Chinese brush carry over to his oil painting also.
In 10.01.86, Zao’s foundation in Chinese calligraphy is evident in his letting oil pigments drip freely on his canvas, creating a natural effect of slow accumulation analogous to the aesthetic concept of wulouhen, or “traces of rain seeping through the roof,” in Chinese calligraphy. The latter concept originated in a dialogue between the Tang-dynasty calligraphers Huaisu and Yan Zhenqing, and refers to the gradually-formed traces of rain seeping through a roof and into a wall. As the modern calligrapher Shen Yinmo explains, “For rain to seep into a wall, it must first accumulate some weight by coalescing into droplets. These droplets flow slowly downwards, not in a straight line but wavering from side to side as they leave their traces on the wall. The pictures thus formed have an untrammelled feeling more than one of restraint.” From the above, it is clear that as a calligraphic aesthetics wulouhen emphasise weighty substance and wavering textures in lines. In 10.01.86, Zao applies his oil pigments in free and fluent brushwork and uses diluted off-white, light orange, and light yellow pigments to create translucent, liquid traces on the painting surface. 10.01.86 has the spiritual grandeur of a majestic landscape, but is also highly refined in its details. It invites and rewards endless wandering through its various passages.
10.01.86 has participated in nine major exhibitions of Zao Wou-Ki’s works across various cities in Europe and Asia; and it has been illustrated in full in 11 important catalogues—an impressive resume unsurpassed in Zao’s oeuvre. An enduring testament to the international recognition and celebration that Zao enjoyed in his later years, 10.01.86 is of inestimable art-historical significance.
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