Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)
- Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)
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- oil on canvas
Executed from 1987-1990
A Masterpiece by Chu Teh-Chun: Inspiration Hivernale
By Jasmine Liao
Chu Teh-Chun first went on a trip to the Alps in 1965 and it was after this journey that he first began to produce paintings of the snow. At that time, however, he was still painting with thickly applied oil paints and was not yet diluting his oil paint to mimic the graceful lines of Chinese ink paintings, as seen in his paintings of later years. In the spring of 1976, he returned to the Alps on a holiday with his family to Châtillon-en-Diose. The soft, white, snow-capped mountains of the Alps deeply inspired him, and he drew upon these conceptual ideas for his Winter Series produced over the next decade. In 1985, Chu went to Geneva for a gallery exhibition and on his journey through the Alps he encountered heavy snowfall. The swirling snowflakes and the vast white snowscapes drew forth the hidden memories in the artist's mind, inspiring him to paint another series of snow scenes which were completely different to those of the 1960s. As he reached the pinnacle of his artistic maturity in the 1980s, through the use of graceful calligraphic lines, diluted colours and bold brushstrokes, Chu painted towering mountain ranges and successfully depicted the soft, white scenery and the feeling of the falling snowflakes in the Winter Series produced in this period.
Chu Teh-Chun seldom sketches prior to painting. Aside from a few of his larger scale paintings (such as his Symphonie Festive, commissioned by the Shanghai Opera House in 2003 for which he created six opaque watercolour sketches), the artist allows the concept to brew in his mind for a prolonged period of time. When he is in front of his canvas, Chu has an outbreak of emotion and through intense movement and gesture he paints the landscape of his imagination. He does not pay particular attention to the use of technique, believing that technique is achieved through the inner-imagination. For example, in his snow scenes, he fills the sky with fluttering snowflakes, relying completely on the paint "flying off" his paintbrush; a reflection of the momentum of his hand. Undoubtedly, Chu's snow scenes are a rare innovation which brought him great satisfaction; one of his own snow scene paintings hangs in his living room.
The majority of Chu Teh-Chun's paintings of snow were completed between 1985 and 1990. In 1987, there was heavy snow fall in Paris and at that time Chu's studio was located in Bagnolet in the northern part of Paris on the top floor of a eighteen story building. The balcony of his studio faced south onto the Bois de Vincennes, an area which Napoléon III turned into a park in 1860 by planting a large number of trees, creating lakes, and piling hills in imitation of an English park. Due to its long history, the mulberry forest has many towering old trees and is a preferred area for Parisians to take a leisurely walk. Chu Teh-Chun often walked there with his wife, observing the trees, the rays of light and the seasonal changes through the eyes of an artist, and seeing the mysteries of nature with the mind of a poet. After spending long periods contemplating everything that he had seen, Chu would wield his brush and with a calligrapher's momentum, an artist's grasp of colour and light, and a poet's perception of nature, he would express the lively spirit of nature in a thoroughly unrestrained manner. His paintings combine poetry, calligraphy and painting and go far beyond the usual style of Lyrical Abstractionism. His work is unique in character and achieves a distinctly poetic and dreamlike quality.
Inspiration Hivernale (Lot 632) was executed between 1987 and 1990 and was originally inspired by the snow-covered mulberry forest Chu saw in the winter of 1987. As usual, his creativity was fueled by the beauty of the snow scene. As soon as he entered his studio, he "would become filled with passion and forget both myself and my surroundings, becoming almost breathless. During that time it is not easy to think slowly, and I would want to go as far as possible in one go. The painting could not be completed in one day, and on the second and third days I would continue on, not stopping until perfection was reached."
According to the artist, whether a painting will be successful or not could often be determined in the first brushstroke. As such, an artist's talent and aptitude can be determined from the first layer of oil paint and the changes made in the second layer are built upon the artist's experience. Often, after finishing the first layer of paint, Chu would turn his canvasses over, making them "face the wall" for a period of time and then he would continue with the "retouch" step at a later stage. After the first stage of Inspiration Hivernale was complete, this painting "faced the wall" for a long period of time. As Chu was busy preparing for a number of exhibitions in 1988 he forgot about this painting, putting it aside for a couple of years. One day in 1990, the artist discovered this large work stored beneath other canvasses and was startled when he turned it around. How could he have forgotten such a great painting of a snow scene? The beauty of the snow-covered forest came back to him and his creative passion drew him to finally complete this canvas in one final go.
Inspiration Hivernale is a diptych measuring 195 by 260 centimeters. During the 1980s, the magnificent beauty in his travels to his motherland of China inspired him to create paintings on a large scale. However, as his studio in Bagnolet was on the eighteenth floor and the elevator in the building was fairly small, his large-scale works could only take the form of diptychs and triptychs. In 1990, after moving to a large studio in Vitry-sur-Seine in the south of Paris, Chu no longer faced the issue of size in his paintings and naturally did not need to cut up his work anymore.
In this painting, through the calligraphic flowing lines, one can glimpse the leafless branches of the towering trees in winter as the intertwined branches form a complex, winding beauty. The large central brush strokes depict a weeping willow tree in winter, standing gracefully in quiet beauty. Moreover, despite Chu's principal use of black and white, his work is not at all dim or without light. He said: "My paintings are full of light; light and colour are related. When you have light, you have the spatial composition to include changes in colour. I think that paintings without light are flat and without anger. Rembrandt's use of light gives his paintings more depth, vigor and strength. I think he is the greatest artist to have ever lived. He was a devout Christian and the light in his paintings can be said to be the light of his faith. I am not the same, I do not have any religious beliefs, I paint the light of my mind and it is the light of my soul."
This painting is one of a hundred exciting works that were exhibited by Chu Teh-Chun at the 90 Year Retrospective held at the Beijing Museum of Art in 2010. Chu was unable to attend the exhibition opening due to health reasons, but his close friend and fellow artist Wu Guanzhong inspected the exhibition prior to its opening to check that everything was correctly hung, and invited a number of distinguished guests to the evening opening ceremony.
On the front page of the exhibition catalogue Wu Guanzhong inscribed the words: "the hardship of working diligently, Spring, Autumn 1990. The heart is immersed in art; light illuminates the whole world". Mrs. Chu, who attended the event, was deeply touched by the sincerity of the friendship of Chu's close friend. Inspiration Hivernale might be understood as a depiction of a scene in which Chu Teh-Chun and Wu Guanzhong traveled around the West Lake together in their youth. Or perhaps it is the snow scene of the mulberry forest transformed into a dream of his innermost heart. The best way to interpret Chu's paintings is to use one's imagination and to go with the artist on his spiritual journey into a mysterious world filled with musical rhythm and glorious colours.
The author, Jasmine Liao holds an M.A. Art History, University of Paris and is the author of Chu Teh-Chun. She has conducted several interviews with Chu Teh-Chun and published a number of articles on the artist. She is currently a freelance writer.
We are especially grateful to Mrs. Chu Ching-Chao for providing important information for this article and for her extensive help.