Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)
- Chu Teh-Chun
- L'automne (Autumn)
- signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed, titled and dated 1976
- oil on canvas
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After remaining in the same family collection for more than three decades, Chu Teh-Chun’s masterpieces from the 1970s – L’automne (Lot 10), L’été (Lot 15), Untitled (Lot 11) – are revealed to the public in the present sale, as yet another powerful testimony to the transformative output by the artist in that decade. The 1970s saw the artist’s reunion with his teacher Lin Fengmian in Paris, his well-documented visits to the Rembrandt retrospective in Amsterdam, and the Expressionism exhibitions in Germany; standing at the crossroad of two cultures, Chu refined his paintings with a more confident and distinct abstract language, while always being concerned with nature and its mutations. Art critic Gao Tianmin once described the transformation of Chu’s art as follows, “After the 1970s, Chu’s view of nature underwent a fundamental change. Nature gradually became abstract, enabling him to move forward, to create ‘inner images’ and ‘mental images’ that far exceed conventional ‘objective images.’”
Chu’s embrace of abstraction began in the 1950s in Paris amid the rise of Tachisme and his discovery of Nicolas de Staël’s paintings. All through the 1960s, the artist’s continuing practice of Chinese calligraphic art would seep into his canvas as impetuous and powerful lines, animating juxtapositions of colour areas. “This ‘struggle’ between the linear sharpness of the written sign and the spatial amplitude of the gesture, between the spirit of calligraphy and the strategy of wash-painting will last through the sixties, until in the course of the following decade the spatial reversibility characterizing” the abstract landscape of Chu fully asserts itself. (Ibid, p.13) This “spatial reversibility”, imbued with the cosmic impulsions rooted in artist’s memory of the Chinese visual reservoir, is the key to understanding Chu’s abstract oeuvre.
In L’automne from 1976, while the boldness of Chu’s calligraphic gestures remains, the composition is lighter and less wrought in its surface textures. Applied with wide, flat brushes of bright yellows and reds, the central composition immediately grabs the viewer’s attention, hurtling them into the artist’s imaginary world. The warmth of the centre is shrouded by the black and olive periphery yet not threatened by it; layers of paint on top occasionally give in to let the colours underneath shimmer through. As befits the title, the painting’s colour palette evokes scenes of the autumn leaves bustling on tree tops or the fallen leaves swirling in eddies of the autumn wind. However, the dynamic composition and the fine colour gradation dissolve any illusion of concrete realities. Space and depth are in constant flux; the painting could be any landscape in the autumn, be it microscopic or macroscopic. The result is a poetic gesturing towards the essence of autumn.
Similarly in L’ été of 1977, various summer landscapes are hinted at, yet something incomprehensible about the idea of summer is truly at stake. From jade to lake green, from azure to creamy yellow, the colours of summer are generously employed. The daubs of bright pink in the middle of the composition suggests falling pedals from a late spring flower or lonesome lotus buds waiting to bloom in an emerald lake. However, tectonics of washes and brushstrokes, highlighted by minutely layered blue periphery, prevent any tendency towards a concrete space or representation at large, leaving only an impression of the quality of light.
It is therefore the essential, the Tao that the artist strives to reach in these paintings. Jean-Clarence Lambert described Chu as “a painter of fire—of air and fire, with, besides, something incomprehensible pertaining to the particular mystery, such personal magic power makes him a unique figure within the School of Paris.” Like the fire of life, images contained within the present lots constitute the mystery of the Way as at the origin of the universe described in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. They demonstrate great subtlety and precision in the rhythms and cadences with which strands of light and colour are interwoven, and the artist’s spirit roams freely amidst the ample space, sometimes at a leisurely pace, sometimes with much urgency, opening up the canvas that shows not only tremendous depth but enormous heights encompassing Heaven and Earth, where everything seems to awake with dawn after a long, dark night.