Zhao Chunxiang graduated from Hangzhou Academy of Fine Art, where he studied under Lin Fengmian, and was acknowledged as one of his teacher's best students. Zhao's early drawings and landscapes clearly demonstrated his then tremendous potential for success as an artist. Zhao moved to Taiwan in 1948, after which he traveled across Europe and finally settled in the USA.
In his first few years in America he became fascinated by the freedom and spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism. He embraced the aesthetics of this new movement to such an extent that he completely left behind him the traditions of Chinese and western art that he had become so familiar with. Abstract No.1 (lot 526) is a representative work of this period. With dynamic and spontaneous brushstrokes, thick and wild use of paint, this work encapsulates all the characteristics of Abstract Expressionism and is probably one of the artist's best works from this time.
Painting was not Zhao's full-time profession. As a new immigrant to the USA, Zhao found a full-time job in an art decoration company as a designer of oriental patterns for fabrics and ceramics, a profession he worked in for three decades until his retirement. It was possibly because of his well-established career in this trade that exempted Zhao from painting works catering to market taste, and allowed him to pursue a style that was of genuine interest to him. According to Zhao's biography, he would always avoid collaborating with galleries, especially if they requested that he change his style to satisfy market taste. In contrast, he would be delighted when major art museums showed interest in his work. According to his dairy, representatives from the Guggenheim and Brooklyn Art Museums visited his studio to select paintings for their collections, and his work now forms part of the permanent collections of many important art museums around the world.
Although during his first few years in America Zhao totally abandoned the traditions of Chinese art in his work, he was a fervent Taoist with a great interest in the Yi Ching (Book of Changes) and believed in the concept of yin-yang. It was therefore only inevitable that the elements of traditional Chinese art would re-emerge in his paintings. In the early 1960s, a friend from Taiwan brought him a bottle of Chinese ink - a simple gesture that led to Zhao rekindling his interest in Chinese art. Thenceforth, he began to incorporate Chinese elements such as the Taijitu (the traditional symbol representing the forces of yin and yang), and use ink wash and rice paper in his work combining them with abstract composition, thick and visible layers of paints and multiple perspectives.
Yin Yan (Lot 527) from this auction is an example of such work, in which the Taijitu is painted in almost-fluorescent pink and green. In terms of media, this work combines acrylic and ink on rice paper, exemplifying Zhao's exploration in drawing influence from both the East and West.
One of the recurring themes of Zhao's painting is concentric circles, which may symbolize Zhao's interest in Taoism or the traditional Chinese view of the universe. Cosmic Force (Lot 528) is an example of such work. Colourful circles are painted with a variety of brushstrokes adding rhythm and dynamism to the work. At the same time the ink wash background succeeds in rendering a sense of mystery in the work.
Despite having a stable, well-paid job in New York, Zhao was separated from his family and children. Zhao's wife and daughter came with him to Taiwan in 1948, but their son stayed remained on the mainland. During his thirty-two years in America, his family never came to join him. In his loneliness he kept birds in his apartment, and these became an important hallmark in his painting. Symbolizing family and love, he painted his birds in pairs or groups and are sometimes accompanied with captions such as "Dad & Mom". In Yin Yan, birds are depicted with colourful inks, and possibly represent Zhao's longing for reunification with his family.
In Zhao's work, Chinese ink wash, rice paper and calligraphic brushwork are combined with expressionist brushstrokes, distorted compositions and abstraction. When East meets West in his paintings, we discover a unique style of art, in which traditional Chinese painting techniques are combined with the Western concepts of abstraction and spontaneity.
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