Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
- Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
- signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 53
- watercolour on paper
It is there. It is not there. What we see cannot be nature. And yet it must be.
But it is quite different. We no longer see it in detail.
Nature captured in the mass.
Still natural, but warmer, more passionate. Telluric.
Neither strange nor unsettling, but fluid, in warm colours that are not so much colours as lights, splashing streams of light.
Empty of trees or rivers, of woods or hills, but full of cloudbursts, quiverings, burgeonings, of surges and flows, of vaporous blendings of colour that swell, rise and merge.
Nature is beset by new problems, dramatic situations, encroachments.
Henri Michaux, 1957
Written Before Wind
Created in 1954, Wind is seen as Zao Wou-ki's very first abstract painting, but in Untitled (Lot 1005), a watercolour from 1953, we can also see objects turned into abstract symbols. The symbols retain the stylistic characteristics of the Klee period, but are hardly recognizable as objects. Here Zao continues to layer and interweave fine lines, but rather than objective contours they themselves become the primary subject matter. This painting anticipates the Oracle Bone period of the following year. In the early 1950's, Zao Wou-ki refocused on the line. He strove to free himself from the orthodoxies of Ming and Qing-dynasty Chinese painting, but the line remained the foundation of Chinese painting. Whereas Western painters focused on chiaroscuro and volume, Chinese painters focused on the line and treated it as their primary vehicle of description of expression. Here Zao Wou-ki looks back to the aesthetic traditions of his motherland for inspiration—to the oracle bones of the Shang Dynasty, rubbings of the Han, and the calligraphy and ink paintings of subsequent times. The beauty, archaicizing spirit, minimalist aesthetics, and abstractionism of traditional Chinese writing and painting are all palable in Zao Wou-ki's earliest abstract watercolours.