PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
"A journey back to the homeland with hair so gray, the honking of geese is the sound of homeland, and music to my years."
Homeland Sounds is referenced from a poem by He Zhizhang of the Tang Dynasty, On Returning Home: ‘In youth I left, now old, I return carefree; my tongue unchanged, my hair thinner be.’ The expression is an allusion to the accent unique to one’s hometown, to symbolise the deep emotional attachment to one’s motherland, family - a love so great that it extends to the people and country. In 1992, Wu Guanzhong – now in his 70’s – found himself in his hometown of Jiangsu Province at the invitation of CCTV to shoot a documentary, The Landscape of Life. For Wu, who had spent most of his life traveling the world, the people and scenescape at home rekindled in him a strong nostalgia for home. Wu at this time had mastered the explorative technique of fusing ethnic Chinese elements into oil painting, expertly integrating the silhouetting dynamic of ink with the boldness and vibrancy of oil, and truly coming to his own in exercising the techniques for ‘oil painting and ink art,’ and creating many oil pieces suffused with rich Eastern timbre.
Homeland Sounds (Lot 16) is a piece that represents Wu’s artistic experience of the time, summarising the series.
The master often created paintings of the same motif repeatedly in different artistic periods throughout his career, to experiment with different techniques, weighing different options and making modifications on the composition, techniques, mediums and material. Take Homeland Sounds for example: similar theme were created by the master throughout the 1970’s and 1990’s. A Flock of Goose on Tai Lake (fig. 1), created in 1974, was the earliest piece, and characterised by a realist style complimented by abstract forms and details that typified the 1970’s. Another ink piece, A Duck Farm (fig 2), painted in 1982, served as a foundational prelude to Homeland Sounds ; yet it focused more on the creative silhouette, and the flock of ducks was completely abstract. Wu Guanzhong painted an ink version and an oil painting for Homeland Sounds (Goose) (Fig. 3) in 1992 and 1993, respectively, as a way for verbalising his artistic sentiments, and because of that, these works were without much compositional dynamic.
As Wu unleashed his creative energy in the 1990’s with Homeland Sounds , painted in 1996, encapsulated his compositional and artistic skills to epitomise a purely stylistic element, actualising ‘formal grace’ to the fullest extent. Wu had observed, ‘abstract beauty is the core of formal beauty.’ The master enjoyed using hyperbolic and streamlined approach to express the core elements, maximising the visual impact. An immense flock of ducks is placed in the centre of Homeland Sounds in a cascading triangular composition, with ridge-like fences dissecting the scenescape. The colours are Wu’s signature silverfish greys, interlaid by light and whites and yellows to contrast with the willow green in the far back, effectuating a waterscape of ‘flurry white down on teal creek, the ducks’ red fins teasing the water.’ The reference to the sweeping grasslands is used in traditional Chinese language for expressing nostalgia, and Wu chose the quacking flock of lively ducks as the motif for the piece, bringing spectators up-close to the ducks’ loud yodeling and grunting, thus lending the scene a genuine wistful sentiment.
Looking closely at the dense flock of ducks, one might notice Wu borrowing a form-deconstructing method that typified Impressionism (fig. 4): he used small, careful strokes and thoughtful assemblage of colours, allowing the spectators to mix and blend the palette and silhouette as they wish; with that, the dewiness and brightness of every hue can be better preserved to create a more impactful vibrancy. The outlines of the fences are decidedly reminiscent of traditional Chinese ink art, such as the ones found in Forest After Rain (fig. 5) by Ni Zan, with flowy, undulating brushstrokes to bolster the piece with lineation. Without the Western influence, the flock of ducks would appear feeble and lax; take away the Chinese artistic elements, and the composition would then appear cluttered and messy. Furthermore, Wu utilised graphical perspective methods in traditional Chinese ink painting to create the sense of depth; the ducks are arranged in layer over layer, tapering progressively toward the top, not unlike the way Li Shizhuo rendered the pine trees in Landscape (fig. 6), waning and narrowing into the distance. Other than dimensionalising the impression of depth, the method also ensures movement continuity, making the flock of ducks appear swelling and rolling. This technique is based on the spectators’ visual subjectivity to actualise distances and depths, paying homage to one of the principal techniques in Chinese painting. Compared with Western art (fig. 7), dominated by single-point perspective, Chinese landscapes are more melodious and dynamic in vision. In Homeland Sounds, Wu fused both Chinese and Western elements - two seemingly incompatible art approaches – with boldness and fluidity, whilst using them to express his innermost feelings. In other words, Homeland Sounds is a hallmark piece that represents Wu’s quest of ‘modernising Chinese painting with oil.’
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
All Homeland Sounds
signed and dated in Chinese (lower left); signed, titled and dated in Chinese (on the reverse)
WU GUANZHONG (CHINA, 1919-2010)
China Three Gorges Publishing House, Art of Wu Guanzhong 60’s-90’s, Beijing, China, 1996 (illustrated, plate 102, p. 123)
People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, Wu Guanzhong -Connoisseurs’ Choice I, China, 2003 (illustrated, plate 101, p.222-223)
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. IV, Changsha, China, 2007, (illustrated, p. 168-169)
Jiang Xi Mei Shu Chu Ban She, Wu Guanzhong Volume II, Beijing, China, 2008 (illustrated, p.383)
Hebei Fine Arts Publishing House, Great Master of Art in the World - Wu Guanzhong, Hebei, China, 2008 (illustrated, p. 114).
The Beijing Palace Museum, Wu Guanzhong Xiang Gu Gong Bo Wu Yuan Juan Zeng Jia Zuo Ji Shi, Forbidden City Press, Beijing, China, 2008 (illustrated, p. 191)
China Fine Arts Publishing House, Collected Paintings of Wu Guanzhong, Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, p. 72)
Anon. sale: Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November 2006, Lot 177
Private Collection, Asia