In the course of his many trips to the United States from the second half of the 1950s, the Sino-French artist was captivated by the unprecedented creative energy which emanated from the works of the painters he met in New York through the intermediary of Pierre Soulages and the latter’s American dealer – who would soon become his own: Sam Kootz. He quickly became friends with Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Adolph Gottlieb, William Baziotes and Hans Hofmann. Their painting appeared to him to be more instinctive, more direct than the painting of Europe at the same time. Illuminating and inspiring.
Upon his return to Paris, Zao Wou Ki decided to begin exploring new territories. At the crossroads between the training in traditional Chinese painting he received as an adolescent at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts and the teachings of his contemporaries close to Abstract Expressionism, the works he produced were now more assertive and emblematic of the artistic maturity within his reach. As he declared himself in his Autobiography published in 2008, it is clear “that these ten years, between 1960 and 1970 […] allowed [him] to give body to this long work […] accomplished since [his] arrival in France”.
The work 19.3.62 is thus an example of the height of his art. He has finally found the long sought after sense of balance between millenary and contemporary practises. His brushstrokes are accomplished and his palette is handled with mastery. His compositions now open up a space for an incomparable imaginary and atmospheric graphics, pulling the viewer into an intense and incredibly sensitive internal space. In this remarkable painting, kept for over forty years in a North American private collection, Zao Wou-ki allows himself to be submerged by a feeling of total freedom he certainly experienced for the first time and which became his sole guide when he moved at the end of 1961 to his studio on the rue du Moulin Vert, next to Giacometti’s studio, and planted with trees that recalled his native China. Here he had “a feeling of having recreated a bit of my childhood”, everything invited him to paint, including “that Northern light, a bit grey, always the same”, which allows him “to see the intensity of each colour.” (Ibid.)
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