My paintings are all related to passion and romance. Desire is a component of being human, it's something innate. More importantly, our feelings and desire towards sex are a manifestation of vitality, and they symbolise a life in flourish.
Teeming with rich radiance, visual drama and sensual emotion, the monumental Somewhere Peach Blossoms Bloom from 2010 exemplifies Zhou Chunya’s creative genius at the culmination of his career. The glorious masterpiece, one of the largest paintings by Zhou Chunya to appear in the market, demonstrates consummate composition and mesmerizing pictorial depth, featuring surging, luscious peach blossoms against golden fields, a sapphire lake and a perfect azure sky. Depicting an opulent bounty of sensory splendour, the outstanding painting exudes symbolic allure, technical virtuosity as well as a masterful fusion of German Neo-Expressionism and Eastern literati art – one of the most superior examples from Zhou’s distinguished and acclaimed oeuvre.
Zhou Chunya was born in 1955 to an artistic and intellectual family in the city of Chongqing. From an early age, his father, a literary critic, encouraged Zhou’s efforts in painting, and left him a wealth of material resources – books on Eastern and Western art theory as well as an original painting by Zhang Daqian. The travails of the Cultural Revolution did not extinguish Zhou’s ambitions and passion towards art; during the art education classes of Studio 57, he frequently sequestered himself at the library to peruse Western art catalogues and biographies of artists. At the time, most of his exposure was to the Social Realist paintings from the Soviet Union. In 1980, a 25-year-old Zhou and his classmate Zhang Xiaogang set off for the Tibetan enclave of the Ruoergai Prairie in Sichuan’s Hongyuan County. There, they sketched from life, the simplicity and nativist style of the Tibetans drawing him far from the political and mammoth historical topics. Henceforth, the artist devoted all of his attention not on political motifs, like most of his contemporaries at the time, but solely into the rhythmic form of art itself and captured a deeper aesthetic consciousness, releasing his personal sentiments upon the canvas through texture, colour, and brushwork.
Zhou Chunya once said of himself: “After departing from the experience on the [Tibetan] prairie, many of the concrete events receded from my mind. But what remained was the intensity of the grasslands, the thick colours, the purity and coarseness of the Tibetans, as well as the lines that run through these colors and forms” (Zhou Chunya: “I Paint in Oil”, Art, 1982, vol. 4). Soon after his trip to Tibet, Zhou moved to study in the Kassel Academy in Germany where he became exposed to German Neo-Expressionism. Accordingly, Zhou built his own unique contemporary-literati style of Chinese painting under the influence of both Western Neo-Expressionism and traditional Chinese painting. Zhou’s singular focus on the intensity and purity of colour and form, birthed from his experience in Tibet and solidified via his time in Germany, continued throughout the progression of each of his critically acclaimed series: from the resolute and powerful Rock Series; to the primitive vitality of the Green Dog, the sensual and nude Red Figure and finally to the passionate romance of Peach Blossoms.
The motif of peach blossoms first appeared in Zhou’s works as early as 1997 before forming part of one of the artist’s major series in 2004. The present work, created in 2010 after over half a decade of refinement and labour, is a wholly sophisticated example that exhibits Zhou’s brushwork, compositional technique and use of colour at its most mature and superlative. All the iconic Zhou colours are present, including the lurid pink of his Red Figure nudes, the iconic green from his Green Dog series and the signature brown from his earliest works inspired by Tibet; while the gentle azure sky in the present lot is powerfully reminiscent of the enthralling hues of Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms – a work with a similar motif. Compared to Van Gogh’s peaceful composition, however, Zhou’s blossoms are at once idyllic and lavishly sumptuous, innocuously harmonious in subject matter yet pregnant with provocative sexual undertones. In traditional Chinese painting, peach blossoms are symbols of the feminine and the delicate, and of desire. Zhou once expressed that the inspiration for his painting of peach blossoms came from his third wife, Shuang Shuang. He acknowledged that the image of the blossoms contained direct sexual connotations. According to the artist, "My paintings are all related to passion and romance. Desire is a component of being human, it's something innate. More importantly, our feelings and desire towards sex are a manifestation of vitality, and they symbolise a life in flourish".
As eminent critic Li Xianting observed in a conversation with Zhou: “I think you have reached a new height in your art achievement with the peach blossom series. You successfully reflect the tradition of the literati painting through oil painting. Traditional literati artists have always been painting bamboos, the chrysanthemum, plum flowers and orchids… [while] peach blossoms were not traditionally praised. It is your biggest achievement to love, to accept love, thus creating these peach blossoms so affectionately and create these works in a modern way”. If Zhou’s peach blossoms are regarded as his most exceptional works thus far, Somewhere Peach Blossoms Bloom, as a mature and virtuosic and sophisticated work, accordingly ranks amongst the very best of Zhou Chunya’s acclaimed oeuvre. Dramatically atmospheric, exuding fervent passion and vivacity, the grand masterpiece achieves the artist’s most sublime fusion of East and West – one that constitutes a kind of echo of the artistic pursuits of Van Gogh, who works found inspiration in Japanese prints. Li summarizes: “Both [literati painting and German expressionism] are language modes where emotional expressions are directly involved in the paintings. But you emphasize more on personal emotions which is exactly what the literati painting was looking for – the soul … You are the lucky star created by the perfect fusion of the east and the west, of tradition and modernity”.