“At the very beginning, when I decided to go to the West, I saw it as ‘roaming abroad’ rather than ‘studying abroad’. My interest was in the exchange of thoughts and ideas with the best and brightest of another land, not in the mere imitation of their creative techniques. In a foreign land, if you can’t draw from your culture of origin as a wellspring, you have no personal strength, nor any ability to contend against the formidable strength of the West.”
Hsiao Chin in Conversation with Sotheby's, June 2017
Hsiao Chin’s artistic inspiration came always from both Eastern and Western cultures. During his time abroad in the West, his Eastern roots provided him with a sense of self-fortification; and while he delved deep into Eastern thought, he used Western thinking as a means for self-evaluation and restraint. In this way, through continuous refinement, the artist was able to fully penetrate both cultures without being constrained by either, maintaining his independence in both thought and creation. During the Movimento Punto period, with abstract expressionism saturated with sentimentality and unable to accommodate Hsiao’s passionate spiritual pursuits, the artist’s works took on increasingly evident mystical elements. This motif would come to influence the style of his works throughout the 1960s, of which Il Sole 7 (Lot 1005) is a representative piece.
During this period, Hsiao frequently used highly geometric compositions, creating neat and symmetrical images. The artist explained that this process was heavily influenced by his study of Tantric Buddhism, and in particular the mandalas of thangka art. The mandala was originally used in the practice of Hinduism. Later adopted by Tantric Buddhism as a symbolic image, the mandala was drawn to promote the building and preserving of energy. The basic form of the mandala is a circular wheel, representing the idea of fulfilment, with concentric circles radiating outwards within a square, the composition a model of a utopian universe. The Buddhist Bodhisattvas reside in the centre, with four doors pointing outward towards the external world. This scene is surrounded by a circle of light, protecting from evil and filth. Il Sole 7 exhibits many Punto characteristics. From one ‘punto’ or ‘point’, layers of concentric circles expand, radiating giant beams of light, like the spokes of a wheel, not only supporting the composition, but expanding the scene of the painting infinitely outward. The red core residing in the centre symbolizes the essence of the origins of the universe. When compared to the Tai xuan zhun yi tu image from the divinations of the I Ching, one can see the artist’s intention in interpreting and portraying the universe’s energies.
Il Sole 7 uses colour blocks in its composition, a feature that is often categorized in the Western art canon as belonging to hard-edge painting. Yet while the defining principles behind hard-edge painting are those of science and reason, Il Sole 7 demonstrates a supernatural force, an energy that seemingly cancels out the rationalist principles. To trace Il Sole 7 to a Western origin, one must note the element of the ‘divine’ contained in its geometric hard-edge composition, which resonates remarkably with Italian master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s Apollo and the Continents. Located in Germany’s Würzburg Residenz, this Italian fresco, by an artist of the Baroque and Rococo periods, depicts a scene from Greek mythology featuring the god Apollo. Using geometric lines with distinctly hard-edged abstractionist characteristics, Tiepolo creates the rays of the sun behind Apollo that appear almost as a crown, or perhaps as the golden arrows released by the Greek archer from Olympus. Juxtaposing the two paintings, one sees not only that the artistic impulses of Tiepolo were far before his time, but that Hsiao’s Post-war abstractionism is rich with the spirit of mythology.
The Il Sole series was a highly valuable contribution to Hsiao’s artistic progress in the 1960s. In the ‘Movimento Punto’ exhibitions, no painting series was more frequently featured by Hsiao to represent his works than the ‘Il Sole’ series. In 1965, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna inducted a large-scale painting by Hsiao into its collection, a piece whose blueprint originated in the Il Sole series. Today Il Sole 17 represents the series as its first piece on auction. In the half-century since its creation, the painting has been preserved in impeccable condition, truly a rare acquisition to be cherished by its lucky collector.
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