Lot 1081
  • 1081

Fernando Zobel

700,000 - 900,000 HKD
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  • Fernando Zobel
  • Paisaje Horizontal (Horizontal Landscape)
  • Signed, titled, inscribed, numbered 64-94 and dated Nov 1 64 / Dec 65 on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 18 1/4 x 59 inches


Private Collection, USA


The work is in good condition overall. A slight undulation of the canvas is evident on the bottom right corner upon close inspection, along with a pin-sized paint loss located on the center of the bottom register. Under ultraviolet light inspection shows no sign of restoration. Framed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Abstract art in Southeast Asia has undergone a metamorphosis throughout the years, especially during the early sixties when artists were experimenting with Western creative principles and appropriating them into a specific paradigm. Much of the region’s abstract artistic expression was inspired by the natural landscape, reconceptualising the topography into narratives that were greatly influenced by the artist’s emotions or memories of a given locale. Amongst the artists whose oeuvre may be read as a visual exploration of their surroundings, Fernando Zobel and Ahmad Sadali were two individuals who sought to merge their psychological appreciation with a particular place within an abstract narrative. Thereby the final results were paintings that played with cognitive perception and feelings, the artworks a testimony to that artist’s nostalgic rendering of a significant place from their personal history.

A true scholar at heart, Zobel was as much a painter as he was a lifelong student continuously seeking knowledge and experiences that would better himself as a man. “The idea behind [my paintings] is to speak of art with art. When I “speak” in these dialogues, I concentrate on one facet and the result is not an imitation but a comment”1, he said. Throughout his body of works it may be said that there is a sense of cerebral motion which cultivates within the compositions feelings of flight and airiness. Much of this is largely due to the Filipino artist’s application of colour that played with light and shadows, opposing forces of yin and yang, and yet in the paintings they come together to transcend their conflicting natures.

Sadali was similar in his dedication to replicate the beauty of the existing environment within the self-contained worlds of his paintings. The artist was a spiritual and philosophical man, for he saw the face of God in the rays of sunlight amidst the flora and fauna, and was inspired by this natural phenomena. The artist’s paintings often found their voice within the Quran, for he equated artistic expression with self-awareness, and it was though pure artistic expression that an individual could achieve enlightenment.

The two present paintings may appear different at first glance in aesthetics and style, and yet Paisage Horizontal (Horizontal Landscape) and Moulded by Weather, Fashioned by the Wind, can be see as each artist’s homage to their environment. The titles of both works allude to the physical landscape, and it is these references that ground the pieces in a certain framework, as well as subsequently enabling the audience to comprehend the scene at hand. By embracing the visual language of Abstract Expressionism Zobel was able to communicate the metaphysical nature of his surroundings into narratives that were simultaneously dream-like and nostalgic in creation. Conversely, Sadali was keen to experiment with mix media in his oeuvre, challenging the compositions with a variety of textures that enhanced the paintings from their two-dimensional narratives. 

The modern denotes not solely the notion to distinguish the present from the past. The modern is rather the fact being engaged in the current movement of human endeavours to understand the self, the environment and the entire universe"2, Sadali wrote. Interestingly, Zobel wrote of a similar respect for his artistic appreciation: ““[My painting process] is more like a process of removing obstruction and distraction…The final painting is a little like a concert performance. Like a performance, it holds surprises…”, the artist said3.

As a youth in Manila during the Japanese occupation, paired together with his fragile health, Zobel spent much of his time at home reading and finding solace in the words of authors who he admired. An author who would have an influence upon his creative expression was Federico Garcia Lorca. In Zobel’s La Saetas paintings the artist refers to the poet’s Before The Dawn as influence upon the series’ title and direction: But like love the archers are blind/ Upon the green night, the piercing saetas leave traces of warm lily/ The keel of the moon breaks through purple clouds and their quivers fill with dew/ Ay, but like love the archers are blind!4

Paisage Horizontal (Horizontal Landscape) dates a few years after La Saetas paintings from the early sixties, however is still reflective of Zobel’s famed painting method of using a hypodermic syringe to create fine lines upon the canvas. As per the title of the series, a saetas was the Spanish word for arrow. With the linear brushstrokes and attention to composition, the artist’s works from that period reveal his dedication to a specific technique and mood. Paisage Horizontal (Horizontal Landscape) shows a progression in Zobel’s painterly style, notably the desire to use specific colours over others. The works expressed a pictorial tension that served to embrace, and as well as do away with certain hues that would distract from the overall climate of a painting. 

During the fifties and sixties in Indonesia, it was rare for an artist to deviate away from the Realist Tradition that was very popular amongst local artists.  However, Sadali  felt that "Indonesian modern art should avoid discussions of history and modernity allied with nationalism"5. He was part of the Bandung School art collective in Western Java, and was respected as a pioneer artist for incorporating Cubism, Colour Field Painting, and Abstract Expressionism into his artworks.“Modern art is an ideological concept. It rejects past modes and aggressively asserts its claim to be the only art truly reflecting our age”, he said6. This belief of the importance to have freedom of expression, paired together with his spiritual teachings reveal the poet-philosopher behind the guise of an artist. A true intellect, it was Sadali's passion to express himself fully, and it was through abstract art that he was able to do so.

As per the title of Moulded by the Weather, Fashioned by the Wind suggests, Sadali has captured a moment of peacefulness that is a poetic expression of the physical landscape. Akin with the rocks in a cave that are made smooth by the repeated force of the wind and sunlight, the artist’s painting is a meditative look at the natural landscape and mankind being humbled by the sheer greatness of this physical world. Partly a prayer of respect to the environment that gifted him with air and sustenance, the painting celebrates the very ground that the artist walked upon, the feeling of the soil and sunshine a necessity for survival. 

Modern art is a type of creation exercised by contemporary artists who make use of every facility existing in today’s space and time. It involves the effort to find a new ground of reality that is a quandary from which modern man find no escape. It is an insight contending a search of knowledge that can clarify the relationship between the self and the world”, Sadali said7.

Both individuals interestingly were influenced by the New York School, the art movement that was taking hold of American artists during the fifties. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko were key figures of this movement, and their creative expression had a cross-cultural impact upon the works of Zobel and Sadali. The two present paintings are reminiscent of the American artists' aesthetics. Paisage Horizontal (Horizontal Landscape) invokes the works of Mark Rothko and Franz Kline, while  Moulded by the Weather, Fashioned by the Wind finds a voice in Pollock's abstract lyricism.

It should be noted that though both artists did not meet one another during their lifetime, their oeuvres both reflect the innate desire and respect that human beings have towards their surroundings, and it is this compassion for the physical landscape that surpasses nationality and age, and underlines the instinctive relationship that arises between an individual and the world which they inhabit. The two paintings are demonstrative of both men's talents as an artist. However as a piece from a moment in their personal history, the works share insight into understanding each artist’s relationship with his environment.

1 Peter Soriano, “A Biographical Sketch of Zobel’s Formative Years”, Pioneers of Philippine Art: Transnationalism in the late 19th-20th Century, Ayala Museum, 2006, pg. 44.

2 Jim Supangkat, The Hidden Works and Thoughts of Ahmad
Sadali, Edwin's Gallery, Jakarta, 1997, pg. 13

3 Cid Reyes, Conversations on Philippine Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, Philippines, 1989, pg. 51.

4 Federico Garcia Lorca, “Before the Dawn”, Poem of the Deep Song, City Light Books, San Francisco, CA, pg. 54.

5 Refer to 2, pg. 14

6 Refer to 2, pg. 16

7 Refer to 2, pg. 13