Guan Yu, courtesy name Yun Chang and revered as Guan Gong, was a famous general who lived during late Han dynasty/ Three Kingdoms period. He is the most well-known military strategist in the history of China, and his legend developed over the course of almost 2,000 years through history, literature, theatre, television, and film. Not only is he a household name among Chinese people, Guan Yu is also regarded as a deity in different religious faiths and philosophical systems, held up as a role model of impeccable morals as well as a divine defender of law and order. In Ming and Qing dynasties, Guan was honored with the title of Guan Shengdi Jun, literally meaning ‘Holy Emperor Guan.’ In the Daoist faith, Guan Yu was revered as a deity who kept demons at bay, while in Han Chinese as well as Tibetan Buddhism, Guan Yu was worshipped as a Sangharama Bodhisattva. In Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, Guan Yu was also worshipped in Mongolia, Tibet, Vietnam, Japan, and Ryukyu. Guan Yu was immortalized not for his outstanding military skills alone, but more importantly, for his unmovable display for loyalty and integrity even in the most corrupt environments. In the upcoming sale, Ju Ming’s wooden sculpture Guan Gong (Lot 1043) is the largest Guan Gong wooden sculpture by Ju Ming according to the artist’s major publications, auctions information as well as public collection data. Guan Yu was among the artist’s most important traditional subject, and the present lot is a powerful display of Guan’s righteous and dignified presence.
When Ju Ming was young, he was trained as a temple wood carver under the tutelage of renowned Taiwanese sculptor Lee Chinchuan, who enabled Ju Ming to develop his expertise in traditional wood carving. Guan Gong was widely revered in Fujian and Taiwan, and therefore a most familiar subject for the artist. The present sculpture depicts Guan Gong’s thick, furrowed eyebrows and eyes, tightly shut, shaped like the phoenix, creating an image of a sage whose wisdom is beyond the ken of ordinary men. His face is dark red, and his beautifully groomed long beard flows in the wind. The deity commands respect without acting fierce. The artist used a high head band to create a towering sense of formidable presence, the glare of the blade of Guan’s Green Dragon-Half Moon Blade stands upright behind his back, highlighting Guan’s image as a divine guardian. From the 1970s, Ju Ming began his transformation from a traditional craftsman to a sculptor, gaining increasing attention with his works depicting folk-related subjects. His sculptures were considered a symbol of the folk movement. With a deeply introspective energy, the figure in the present sculpture commands respect while remaining an approachable deity. It is a unique display of Ju Ming’s unique artistic charisma during this transitional moment of life and career.
Upon his decision to pursue fine art, Ju Ming studied under internationally renowned modern sculpture artist Yuyu Yang. Zhu was deeply influenced by Yang’s minimalist approach drawing inspiration from the Daoist philosophy of the natural world and humankind becoming one, and developing a ‘reduction’ approach in his creative pursuits. He let go of his fluent technical skills in wood carving and focused on transforming traditional craft into modern art. Such inspiration was critical to the artist. The present sculpture was created using a single, giant log without any separate parts attached to the main body, preserving the maximum natural pattern of the wood. Guan’s robe as well as his body language conveys an expressive ‘xieyi’ approach without highly polished, fine details. The organic display of Guan Yu’s commanding presence is enhanced by the beauty of the natural material. The present lot is the largest wooden sculpture depicting a deity ever presented in auction. The rare subject also serves as an apt display of the artist’s exceptional ability to move between tradition and modern art. To acquire such an important work is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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