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)
Claude Roy: Wou-Ki, you talk like a true Chinese sage. But I for my part believe that your metaphor does not say exactly what you want it to say. You have never closed doors, you open them. You may have the impression that you are slipping all the moorings that link you to the earth, to nature — but this is merely an illusion. Poetry, said Da Vinci, describes the activities of the spirit, the painter observes the spirit through the movements of nature. Even when you think you are speaking with the language of silence, you still use words. Even when you think you are forgetting the tree and the earth, you form part of the tree, and you are on earth.
Zao Wou-Ki: I am reading Lao-Tse just now. What I would like to accomplish is the painting he speaks of in the Tao-Te-Ching.
He goes to fetch Lao-Tse in his library, and we notice that the western translations of the passage he has in mind are all different. The Chinese text is:
Ta Tchi Huan Tsen (Great Genius ripens late)
Ta Drog Shi Sen (Great Music few notes)
Ta Shia Wou Shin (Great Painting without picture)
On the wall of the studio, there hangs a picture which Wou-Ki finished at the end of 1956.
Interview with Zao Wou-Ki, June 1957,
Excerpt from Zao Wou-Ki by Claude Roy, 1959
During his Oracle Bone Period, Zao Wou-Ki was moved by the aesthetics of Chinese oracle bones and bronzes, but he also took inspiration from those around him. A Self-Portrait of Zao Wou-Ki reveals the combined influences of Musée Cernuschi director Vadime Elisseeff, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris director Berthe Dorival, poet laureate Henri Michaux, musician Edgar Varese, surrealist painter Joan Miró, gallerist Pierre Loeb, writer François Cheng, and many artists working in Lyrical Abstraction. In early publications in French and English, their brilliant concepts and exchanges of ideas offer a glimpse into how Zao’s Oracle Bone Period began and even his painstaking shift from representation to abstraction. The discussion above is excerpted from the 1959 catalogue Zao Wou-Ki, which includes French poet and writer Claude Roy’s observations of and commentary on the early work of his friend Zao Wou-Ki, as well as a lot of deeper discussion between the two men. The conversation above occurred in 1957 as they looked at a work from 1956, which may help us to analyse Ville Suspendue (Lot 1020), a work also from 1956 offered in this Evening Sale.
In 1956, Zao Wou-Ki was already firmly established in abstraction, and he was working to develop his own artistic language. In this passage, Zao explicitly references the Dao De Jing. In Claude Roy’s response, we can see that he expands on Zao’s idea, pointing out that, while the artist has avoided representational elements in his abstract paintings, he has not cut off all connection to nature. This insightful conversation between these two men serve as the perfect footnote to Ville Suspendue. This painting is pure abstraction, and it is only from the title that we gain a clue to the source of the artist’s creative inspiration — namely, what he saw on his Grand Tour. In the work, he expresses natural beauty as he experienced it. This creative method is typical of Zao’s Oracle Bone Period, and it seems that he followed a similar path with Ville Engloutie, a piece sold at Sotheby’s Autumn 2019 auction for 31,375,000 HKD. However, compared with Ville Engloutie, Ville Suspendue takes the abstract construction a step further; its columnar, tree-like structure seems to touch the sky. This main trunk, made up of oracle bone text, appears to draw energy from the earth, then grow upward, leaving a trail of energy that breaks through time and space. This rupture with the two-dimensional space of the canvas faintly resonates with the work of Italian Spatialist Lucio Fontana, though this piece was created at an earlier date. The same year he painted Ville Suspendue, Zao also painted his masterpiece La Nuit Remue based on this composition. The latter is now the most important Zao Wou-Ki piece at the Art Institute of Chicago, which shows that Ville Suspendue was a pivotal point in the artist’s work from the 1950s.
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