- Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)
- 130.5 by 96.5 cm.; 51 3/8 by 38 in.
朱德群 CHU TEH-CHUN
CHU TEH-CHUN 朱德群 le 7.7.1976 《LUMIÈRE DE LA NUIT》（作品背面）
巴黎，Pierre Berge & Associés拍賣行，2012年6月7日，拍品編號126
Chu Teh-Chun's Early Art Style
In the work of Chu Teh-Chun, surging lines, sumptuous colours, and intelligent linear elements of abstraction unfold, shattering and dividing the chaotic silence - not unlike the legends of how the earth and heavens were separated from primal chaos eons ago. His work often reveals a paradoxical sense of bold vigour and delicacy. This is especially true with the work the artist created from 1950 to 1960. This work features a generous amount of abstract calligraphic lines, and most remarkably possesses the reserved serenity of Chinese poetry. Sometimes these works seem melancholic in tone, and other times they exude a pleasing vibrancy, but all along demonstrating the artist's in-depth study and knowledge of western concepts of art. Through his own cultural background and life experience, Chu Teh-Chun has expanded the potential forms and manifestations of visual language in abstract art, and in doing so he has truly created some groundbreaking work.
It is not difficult to draw strong parallels between Chu Teh-Chun's life history and his artistic style. Chu Teh-Chun was born in Hangzhou, China, in 1920. He was influenced by the teachings of his father, a doctor who was also skilled at painting. Thus, Chu became very familiar with the classical Chinese system of aesthetics from a young age, and exhibited a high degree of artistic talent. In 1935, at the age of fifteen, Chu was admitted to the National School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou (now China Academy of Art), at which time the famous artist Ling Fengmian held the position of principal. In terms of art education, Ling Fengmian advocated a free-spirited approach which embraced both Chinese and western artistic views. This had a profound effect upon Chu and many other young artists of the time, as Chu Teh-Chun, Wu Guanzhong, and Zao Wou-Ki, went to Paris after graduating, and were dubbed the "Three Musketeers" of Chinese modern art.
Before Chu Teh-Chun immigrated to France in 1955, he was transferred from Hangzhou to Taiwan due to war, and remained in Taiwan for six years. His connection to Taiwan became deeply rooted, as during this time, Chu did not just teach in Taiwan, in 1954 he even held his first solo exhibition at Zhongshan Hall, Taipei. From existing records it can be confirmed that during this period he was still working with still life themes and painting in a realistic style. These paintings seemed to exhibit some of the qualities of the works of Paul Cézanne, especially in the way how objects were accurately rendered but given a sculptural weight and volume. The earlier works of Chu were more subtle and stable. However, these qualities changed after he reached France, where his perceptions of life and art were radically changed by the immense impact and stimulation he received from the tempestuous social atmosphere, and the various heroes that had gathered in Paris. This brought Chu a great sense of awe. Furthermore, the concepts of abstract art that were sweeping across Europe after World War II, would have undoubtedly been a great inspiration for the young Chinese artist, driving him towards new creative ideas and forms of expression. Around the time of 1960 it can be seen that the artist broke from his more figurative style, and began to explore the visual language of abstract painting.
According to the studies of art history scholar, Wang Deyu, the transformation of Chu Teh Chun's style was closely linked to the prevalence of the abstract art movement at the time. However, it was also connected to the abstract work he created alongside his classmate from the National School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, Zao Wou-Ki, and the inspiration he gained from the Russian-born French painter Nicolas de Staël. Wang Deyu believes that after Zao Wou-Ki arrived in Paris, in 1948, his style also transformed due to his interest in abstract paintings. Zao started from the simplification of form seen in the works of Paul Klee and Alberto Giacometti, and gradually developed his early style of painting which was referred to as his "Klee Period". Of course this transformation must have had a certain inspirational effect upon Chu Teh-Chun, who arrived in Paris later on. In addition the Musée National d'Art held a retrospective on Nicolas de Staël in 1956. It is clear that this exhibition deeply moved Chu Teh-Chun, as many years later he recalled the experience and said that: "His [Nicolas de Staël's] frenzied style was like a beacon guiding me along a dreamlike path to freedom". The styles of the abstract work of Nicolas de Staël have manifested in various ways throughout his different artistic periods, and yet throughout his life as an artist the style of his work still exhibited some common qualities, which included his preference for painting with thick sumptuous textures, dynamic lines, and solid blocks of colour. This was especially apparent during the late 1940s, when Nicolas de Staël would frequently add bold black lines to his work, visually emphasising a sharp sense of conflict, and in the more detailed sections he would add smaller lines to create a sense of sophistication and drama. These sumptuous qualities became prevalent in the later style of the artist.
It is not hard to see how Chu Teh-Chun was inspired by the visual qualities of the work of Nicolas de Staël, especially in the work he created from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. In terms of style this is quite obvious, as can be seen in No.78, (1961), which has become a classic of that period. This work appears to have been created by the back and forth towelling motions of a heavily loaded brush. A swathe of thick dark lines have been left upon the upper section of the painting, which was originally covered in a layer of white pigment. The interspersed blurring effects suggest the physical sense of the directional movement and speed that the artist experienced while working. At the lower section of the painting thick blocks of colour have been intersected by smaller black lines, creating a stark contrast with the brisk strokes above. Gentle and solemn tones have been used in the layer of colours at the bottom section of the painting; however, rich painterly qualities, hints of bright colours, and structural elements remain between the blocks of colour, creating contrasts, and echoing in unison against the background. This gives the overall piece the flow of an ingenious rhythm. At this same time this work contains elements of the aesthetic philosophies of Chinese painting and calligraphy, as black and white are synonymous with the symbiotic relationship of yin and yang. The presences of these natural and spontaneous Chinese elements are what make the paintings of Chu Teh-Chun so special. They stem from the blood of his native culture, making him markedly different from the other western artists, and above all enable him to bring something unique to the world of abstract art. These compelling features also appear in the serpentine calligraphic manifestations of his linear work, and thus enrich the appeal of his early abstract paintings. This fusion of Chinese and western abstract painting is also one of the key reasons why Chu quickly gained the attention of the Paris art scene, and became famous.
The fact that the work of Chu Teh-Chun was so well received clearly did not stop him from pursuing the exploration of his own art. In 1961, he began creating work with the medium of ink, and was especially fond of applying ink washes with rhythmic effects. However, unlike classical Chinese paintings, which used pure ink-based colour, Chu would boldly apply gouache and watercolour paint to the ink. Thus the characteristic blooming and flowing effects of ink also became one of the main elements of his later oil paintings, and the cornerstone of his poetic and elegant style. Art critic Lee Jiming has dubbed the years 1963 to 1972 as Chu's "condensed colour period", and believes that the artist has used the Chinese philosophy of the five elements in his work. Where the ground colours are dark, Chu will find some small areas in which to apply bright tones, these finishing touches illuminate and lift the overall spirit of the paintings. And when the overall tone is somewhat subdued, Chu will compensate with fresh and dazzling colours, creating a sense of rhythm throughout the composition. To some extant these chiaroscuro techniques can be traced back to the inspiration Chu gained in 1969, when he travelled to Amsterdam and observed masterpieces by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn in an exhibition commemorating the third centenary of Rembrandt's death. It was at this time that Chu's style began to mature. This can be seen in Lumière de la nuit (1976), which features the effects of chiaroscuro, and the radiant spots of colour that stand out from the depth of the background tones, which became representative of his work.