Lot 1031
  • 1031

Chao Chung-hsiang (Zhao Chunxiang)

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Chao Chung-hsiang (Zhao Chunxiang)
  • Five Phases
  • signed in Chinese and Pinyin, dated 87
  • mixed media on paper mounted on canvas


Important Private Asian Collection


Chao Chung-Hsiang, Alisan Fine Arts Ltd, Hong Kong, 1992, pl. 16, pp. 31-32
The artistic world of Chao Chun Hsiang, 
Locus Publishing Company, Taipei, 1997, pp. 66-67


This work is in overall very good condition except for a repair at the upper left corner and a minor repaired tear in the upper right quadrant.
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Catalogue Note

Revolutionising Traditional Ink Painting in Five Phases

After the 1960s, when the popularity of Abstract Expressionism subsided, Chao decided to give up that western medium of oil painting to focus on Chinese ink painting. It is important to note that this was not a return to tradition, but rather a decision to refashion the style, method and artistic effect of traditional ink painting with the avant-garde forms and ideas he acquired during his time in the West. He did so in an effort to broaden the narrow path between two of the world’s greatest artistic cultures. In 1981, the artist returned to Asia and until 1990, he was going back and forth between Taipei and New York, garnering the attention of academic circles, galleries and collectors in Hong Kong and Taipei. His followers referred to themselves as “Chao Mi” (Fans of Chao). In 1997, Chao Chun-Hsiang’s biography was published. It’s title, “Absolute Artist,” praised his seemingly indefatigable creative spirit. His 1997 piece, Five Phases (Lot 1031) is a magnificent example of the final and third stage of the artist’s career.

Uniting Opposing Forces

At 15.6 square feet, Five Phases is Chao Chun-Hsiang’s biggest piece, in which he creates his visual own language. Using wild and unrestrained ink, stunningly colourful acrylics and sharp geometric shapes, Chao strikes three chords that resonate harmoniously as one. Chao was in his seventies at this point, but his creative energy was still operating at full force.

In the spirit of action painting, the artist used rich gestural brushstrokes, this time allowing the ink to diffuse through the layers and create multiple complex shades. In the very foreground, large blue and white diamond shapes are meticulously arranged on the pictorial plane, adding a sense of rational order to the chaos. The viewer must first process the clearly defined geometric shapes, penetrate this layer, then make sense of the other more mystifying layers and the painting as a whole. This piece is thus emphasises the Taoist belief in the importance of opposing forces — yin and yang, positive and negative, light and darkness. Only when these dichotomies coexist will one come closer to understanding his or place in the universe.

The Collision and Balance of Light and Darkness

By drawing on the ideas of the New York art scene, Chao not only enhanced his artistic expression in ink paintings, he cracked open the infinite possibilities of traditional ink painting. Brushstrokes in Five Phases are vast and wide, an obvious nod to Abstract Expressionism, but upon closer analysis, the fundamental composition of a Chinese landscape, though indistinct, is recognizable. If we view the piece in light of the works by Chao Chun-Hsiang’s mentor, Pan Tianshou, then Five Phases immediately recalls and illustrates the profound influence that Chao’s early education had on his work.

And yet the artist’s use of colour is cutting-edge. Zhuang Shen, a professor at Academia Sinica, has noted that since 1963 when Chao Chun-Hsiang began to use vibrant colours in his paintings, he used acrylics to paint concentric circles like those in “Harran II”, painted by the American artist Frank Stella four years earlier. In Five Phases, the artist throws acrylics against ink to brighten the painting with acrylic colours while contrasting their strength with the black ink. In Five Phases, the silhouette of bamboo covers a cherry-red solar halo. Darkness and light collide yet complement each other, creating an energetic yet controlled visual effect that perfectly embodies Chao’s philosophy.