The wellspring of Chu Teh-Chun’s creative inspiration largely derived from the artist’s encounters with nature during his many travels. His works can be thought of as remembered visual experiences, refined and internalized, then transmuted, arriving in the realm of the spiritual. Finally, wielding his brush, Chu Teh-Chun spreads the image from his mind onto the canvas, creating the scene of a landscape. Chu Teh-Chun’s singular creative style established him as one of the representative figures of the European post-war movement of lyrical abstraction. By the 1950s, the artist had already broken free from the constraints of figurative representation, and was fully devoting himself to abstractionism, his compositions returning to the purity of colour and line. Yet Chu Teh-Chun’s practice of abstractionism was not absolute in its detachment from the real and concrete. Instead, his works emanate with the presence of nature. They resemble lyrical epic poetry, each painting like a poem that was inspired by Chinese landscape painting, awaiting the viewer to draw near and discern its profundity. In the 1960s, guided by the principles of the xieyi spirit, Chu Teh-Chun further expanded and deepened the position claimed by lyrical abstractionist master Nicolas de Staël, who said, “For me, abstract painting and figurative painting are not opposites.” With increasingly vibrant tones, Chu Teh-Chun created various masterpieces composed of ravishing colour and poetry. No. 269 (Lot 1010), the lot on offer, features a rich, bright red as its dominant colour tone, and is considered one of these masterpieces. The painting captures myriad fluctuations in the atmosphere, representing the poignant moment of daybreak. The accomplishment of the piece in form and colour marks the official beginning of Chu Teh-Chun’s artistic career following his emigration to France. This painting is indeed a gem from the artist’s works of the 1960s.
In No. 269, large swathes of deep red are stained upon the upper half of the canvas. A light sweep of grey clouds pass over the sanguine sky, the wind, seemingly visible, charges the entire canvas with tension. In the lower half of the canvas, verdant greens, brilliant yellows, and oranges intertwine and merge with ink-black lines, pushing the centre of the composition downwards, creating the impression of a vast, calm earth, its stillness bringing the lithe grace of the red sky into sharper relief. This composition of dynamic layers creates a profound and majestic poetic space. The sparkling, translucent blocks of colour, particularly the contrast between light and shadow created by the liubai or “leave blank” technique, contain the vitality of flowing air, breezing through the atmosphere. In this liminal space between form and formlessness, the state of nature has been transformed into the music by which light and colour dance. By the 1970s, Chu Teh-Chun’s rendering of light became an iconic trademark within his paintings. This piece, created in 1968, can thus be regarded as the artist’s early experimentation with light on the canvas, and in this way, possesses great historical meaning.
Having studied calligraphy from a young age, the spirit of calligraphy ink had long been a part of Chu Teh-Chun’s artistic repertoire, the aura of Eastern charm naturally discernible within the style and intensity of the artist’s brushwork. In No. 269, this Eastern spirit is particularly apparent. In the rich layers of colour constituting the sun-flushed background, Chu Teh-Chun’s black lines contain the essence of Chinese cursive calligraphy. It is a testament to the artist’s ingenuity that within lyrical abstraction, a movement rooted in post-war Paris, the artist was able to create a painting in which each brushstroke, whether in its representation of weightless clouds or winding rivers, is imbued with the deep cultural richness of Chinese calligraphy. In this way, the artist emphasized the chime between Western abstractionism and the elements of his own cultural fabric. Chu Teh-Chun’s brushwork is unrestrained and bold, but he also placed great emphasis upon the aesthetic refinement of the line, intentionally sketching out what would appear as a random composition, in a way that ultimately defined the artistic mood and conception of a piece. His calligraphy-based expression combined with oil creates a rhythm full of vitality. Chu Teh-Chun had thus reinterpreted a Western medium with a Chinese ink technique.
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