This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné currently being prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki)
Excerpt from Dominique de Villepin, Into the Maze of Lights
In the 1960s and 70s, Zao Wou-Ki enjoyed widespread acclaim from across the European art scene with his paintings from the Hurricane Period, abound with dynamic life force and indomitable power. These were acquired by museums in Europe and America. As fame and fortune was bestowed upon the artist, death had taken away his second wife Chan May-Kan. In his immense grief, Zao fell into a prolonged depressed state. He did not stop creating, but instead changed his perspective, seeing life experiences as a natural course of life. He continued to challenge his own limits, exploring the universal rule of endless cycles, inspired by the Chinese ink-and-wash tradition. The 1980s saw another of the artist’s critical transition into the glorious Infinite Period, in which Zao Wou-Ki held on to the essence and stamina of modern art while re-opening the Eastern wheel of wisdom to reach a new spiritual height. Works from this period, with 01.11.86 (Lot 1019) being a representative piece, no longer employ the (either horizontal or vertical) sectional composition that is characteristic of his Hurricane Period. Instead, the composition is open, reinforced all around by abstract and figurative landscapes, welcoming and drawing the life force into the center. Such a composition reflects the artist’s open and clear mind when creating these works.
Embracing Life’s Transient Nature and the Letting Go of ‘Self’
A key feature from works from Zao’s Infinite Period is the large “leaving void” white space in the center surrounded by abstract and figurative landscapes. In 01.11.86, the mountain rocks at the bottom were drawn with techniques such as gou (contouring) and cun (wrinkling), the heavy and the light in optimal balance, techniques akin to traditional ink and wash brushes. It brings to mind Shitao’s depiction of textured rocks. In the present work, the rocks form a concave shape that extends upward, before coming closer together again, until eventually obscured by the mist. The white mist spreads across two-thirds of the composition, ethereal and harmoniously incorporated, without any redundant stroke, whirling within the space like the potential energy ready to burst forth from within mountain rocks. An open, liberal power is unleashed as a result, creating a new world in which the absence of self exists as the central idea. This new “leaving void” format is evident in the 1981 work 01.04.81, currently held at the Center Pompidou in Paris, a testament to the artistic value of compositions that integrates Chinese cultural foundation with personal philosophy. By the time the present piece was born, the artist had already been continually exploring for several years on this type of composition.
The birth of the new composition as seen in 01.11.86 reflects the artist’s enlightenment, stemming from not only visual exploration, but also the realization of a deeper personal philosophy. Chinese painting traditions have long employed the scattered-points perspective, which articulates, through the spirit of all things in the universe, the philosophical concept of celestial and earthly existences in symbiosis, the absence of self, and the oneness of heaven and mankind. Zao Wou-Ki assigned the central stage to nature’s way and the reincarnation of life. His artistic expression and creative state were more at ease than ever, displaying an unprecedented confidence from the inside and out with his brush strokes. Embedded within the current painting is a journey into the artist’s life and his profound reflection on the truth, bringing forth a release deep within the soul. Traces of this appear as clouds and mist seep and blend into one another, observing the eternal changes of nature. They caress and embrace the notion of returning to oneself, to transcend the uncertainties of life. Offered at auction this season, the present lot is truth purified from inside the Zao’s heart, and from the artist’s state of enlightenment.
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