Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
- Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
- signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 22.1.68 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 73.2 by 92 cm.; 28 7/8 by 36 1/4 in.
Private American Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above
22.01.68 by Zao Wou-Ki
Ever fallen in love with a work of art at first sight? Perhaps there was a painting that filled you with new delight and understanding each time you saw it. Zao Wou-Ki's 22.01.68 （Lot 1005）tells a touching story.
After Zao Wou-Ki completed 22.01.68 in 1968, it was collected by the Galerie de France in Paris and then purchased by a visiting American collector. The collector displayed the painting in his company offices alongside works by American contemporary artists and the Italian sculptor Marino Marini. Years later, when the collector was dying, he asked an outstanding company employee to choose a work of art from his collection, as a parting gift of gratitude for 25 years of service and friendship. Without a moment’s hesitation, the employee selected Zao Wou-Ki's 22.01.68, and remains its owner to this day.
In February 2005, when the employee chose this painting, after having seen it every day at work for years, he neither knew the value, nor who Zao Wou-Ki was. He simply had a special fondness for it. He says that he is not a collector and has never studied art—he even says that he has never liked abstract painting. However, this artwork possessed a certain magical quality that fascinated him. Its monochromatic blue seems to contain a mythical world: a perfect balance of tranquillity and movement that conjures up a sea of energy or a mountain peak wrapped in mist. Receiving this gift made the employee feel like the luckiest person in the world, and to this day, each time he sees 22.01.68, it strikes him in a new way. But this is more than a 25-year old love story between an individual and a work of art; it is also a prologue to the legend of Zao Wou-Ki.
The Pinnacle of International Prestige
"I listen attentively and open my heart to you through your painting so that you can say the crucial things you wish to share with me. I feel that your intense personality is different from ours, but I also feel a strong personal affinity for you. I am truly happy to say it: this person is so different, and the world, the past, the race, the light in your heart are all unknown to me ... but I know and recognize something in your work that touches me ... your paintings are beautiful. They surpass the practice of skill, and are more truthful than before."
This letter to Zao Wou-Ki from the renowned French post-war abstract painter Alfred Manessier, written in 1960, voices Manessier's full-hearted acceptance of his Chinese colleague while also providing the best possible articulation of how a work of art can deeply move someone, regardless of nationality.
In 1958, Zao Wou-Ki moved on from the achievements of his oracle-bone period by removing script-symbols from his paintings. He progressed to a phase of relying solely on line and colour to express his thoughts and emotions with a series of "abstract landscapes". In the 1960s, his outstanding work drew him into mainstream art circles and won him a place on the list of renowned post-war abstractionists. He received numerous invitations from international museums and travelled abroad to hold exhibitions at institutions such as Museum Folkwang in Essen and the Albertina in Vienna, which both held retrospectives for Zao in 1965. In 1968, his works were included in the important "Painting in France 1900-1967" exhibition, which travelled to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and elsewhere. The artist himself described the period as the pinnacle of his reputation. He painted 22.01.68 in this context, demonstrating his maturity, self-possession, facility, and confidence in a sterling example of his 1960s work.
A Heady Brew of Innovation
"In the face of the dangerous myth of complete incompatibility between Eastern and Western cultures, Zao Wou-Ki is a small but powerful disproof."
French poet H. Cloude
In 22.01.68, Zao Wou-Ki steers his use of colour toward the ocean and sky's most pure hues of blue. He uses a large brush strokes, at times great and free, at times light and gentle. Minute dots of indigo and violet depict a natural mystery of churning seas and rushing rivers. The lines of white and blue-black at the centre of the painting leap and gyrate like samba dancers, coming, going, and changing pace with a splendid and lithe sense of movement. Zao deliberately used diluted oil paints on the top and lower left sections of the canvas in order to produce a light, airy, and misty effect akin to Chinese ink wash painting. As the renowned Chinese-French writer François Cheng once said: "On the surface, Zao Wou-Ki's paintings seem to possess a certain consistency of style, but in fact they are unceasingly exploring, adopting, and incorporating. In his oil paintings, he uses swaths of colour to arrange the tableau, preserving therein many fine techniques of traditional Chinese painting. At the same time, in matters of colour, space, and composition, he has absorbed the practices of Western painting. In his attempts to strengthen perspective and contrast, he strives for breadth, depth and a balance of complex structure and disruption ... expressing broad and diverse sensibilities." Zao seamlessly assimilates, internalizes, and reinvents the essences of Chinese and Western aesthetics, manifesting in his paintings a rich and astonishing world. The artist throws open the doors and invites us into the painting for a light dance, a slow stroll, a shared moment of sunlight.