Details & Cataloguing

Modern Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong

Zao Wou-Ki
1920 - 2013
signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin and Chinese, dated 9.5.61 and inscribed in French on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 by 81 cm; 23 ⅝ by 31 ⅞ in.
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Acquired directly from the artist by the original owner
Christie’s, Hong Kong, 25 May 2013, Lot 4
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector


Yves Bonnefoy & Gerard de Cortanzeed., Zao Wou-Ki, editions La Difference/Enrico Navarra, Paris, 1998, p. 122

Catalogue Note

Surging Waves and Hurricane Verses

Zao Wou-Ki's creative production peaked in the 1960s as he gradually transitioned to a completely abstract style of painting. Zao transcended the limitations of standard methods of abstraction; instead, he drew inspiration for his abstract work directly from his inner world. He ceased to rely on imagery and symbolism, and he whisked away the boundaries between line and colour. Using different shades and combinations of colour, he expressed depth within the space of the canvas, and he depicted his own emotional world with lines resembling the brushstrokes of calligraphy. Zao Wou-Ki's art is rooted in nature, and he drew on the techniques of Western oil painting as well as his own Chinese cultural heritage to interpret the creative expression of nature in Chinese landscape painting. A featured work in this evening auction, 09.05.61 (Lot 1029) symbolizes a limitless ocean filled with billowing, white-capped waves. Zao captures the energy and power of nature with his unique abstract language, skilfully handling space and colour in a way that demonstrates his mature and refined combination of Eastern and Western aesthetics. On a canvas of exquisite dimensions, he masterfully portrays the perspective of relative size, achieving an ineffable visual effect conveys more than mere words can express.

The beauty of nature is the fountainhead of Zao Wou-Ki's creative inspiration. In the artist's own words: "Nature's transformations through the seasons produce endless changes and variations: I am spellbound by the flowing waves, the nimble light, the mist and vapour between water and sky. I often sit for hours beside the lake, watching the wind ripple over the calm surface and gently rock the birch trees . . . I see the extension and distortion of space: the image of leafs, reflected in the water, magically transformed into an endless blue." Water, intrinsically transparent and colourless, becomes blue when it reaches a certain depth. The deeper the body of the water, the darker the shade of blue. Therefore, the colour blue is the symbol and the inspiration for Zao Wou-Ki's exploration of spatial depth.

The primarily blue background of 09.05.61 is embellished by articulate details in black and white that infuse the surging space of the canvas with vitality. The sense of space in the picture plane comes from the distribution of various shades of blue, as well as Zao Wou-Ki's application of Western techniques of portraying sources of light. From Rembrandt, in the seventeenth century, to William Turner and then the Impressionist painters, the expression of light in Western art has a long evolution that evidently influenced the art of Zao Wou-Ki. Add to that Zao's mastery of the Chinese artistic spirit of balancing fullness and void, and the result is a painting that not only indicates the flow of light from a source, but also expresses the concept of unlimited space within the dimensions of a canvas. The intense cadence of his brushstrokes contains a vigorous energy, allowing his mystical expressions of emptiness and fullness to produce a mesmerizing rhythm. Zao Wou-Ki was inspired and touched by nature, and he passes on that emotional resonance to his audience, leading them on a liberating journey through a natural cosmos of his own creation that reverberates with surging energy and eternal allure.

Modern Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong