This new exhibition, L'espace est silence, will give visitors the opportunity to explore the complexities of his work, particularly the concept of large-scale canvases for which he is best known. Many of the works have never been shown before.
Zao Wou-Ki arrived in Paris in 1948 from China, and is particularly noteworthy for the ability of his work to traverse the various developing aethestic trends in modern art. At once part of the Paris scene, he also drew on the vitality of occidental painting, while allowing aspects of Chinese painting, which he had previously moved away from, to re-emerge in his work. As a result, his work is considered ‘both universal and profoundly Chinese’.
Paintings are the pages of the painter’s diary.
Zao Wou-Ki's formal training as an artist began at the Fine Arts Academy of Hangzhou, where he enrolled at the age of 14 and learned traditional techniques, while at the same time being influenced by postcards bearing the works of Picasso and Matisse. This division in his artistic style eventually found reconciliation in works like 21.03.69, where floating Song landscapes meet the techniques of European oil painting.
All of the works on sale at Sotheby’s depict a stage in this process of reconciliation which took place in Zao's painting. Pluie marks his embarkation into the world of abstraction in the early 1950s, moved in particular by his encounter with an important group of works by Paul Klee in Switzerland.
My painting...has become illegible. Still-lifes and flowers no longer exist. I am tending towards an imaginary, indecipherable script.
Through the 1950s, Zao Wou-Ki acquired international recognition. His work was exhibited in France, Bern, Milan, New York, Geneva and Rome, and his journey into a new, unified style continued apace. The paintings on sale at Sotheby’s are both testimony to his profound artistic vision, and markers on this journey of artistic development. As Zao observed, ‘Paintings are the pages of the painter’s diary.”