Successfully bridging East and West, Zao Wou-ki's paintings are a marriage between traditional Chinese landscape painting and Western abstraction. Identifying in each seemingly disparate realm, a coexistence with nature, the artist forged his art from this common point of genesis, simultaneously opening new paths for the development of Chinese painting and staking out his place in the international avant-garde in the lineage of painters such as Paul Cezanne and Paul Klee.
At once lyrical and existential, 30/10/61 is a monumental work that derives from the artist's mature production. Beginning in the late 1950s, Zao's earlier repertoire of symbols, often based on calligraphic forms, evolved into pure, poetic abstraction. His pictures unfolded like magnificent landscapes, his indistinct marks haunting these dream-like spaces like figural vestiges. The French-Chinese author, Francois Cheng noted of Zao's stylistic growth during this phase, 'Zao has ended his relationship to the physical world and entered into an entirely new realm'. The present work is similarly elusive, suggesting landscape with its undulating weave of earth tones, but never settling in any single interpretation. Nature is ever-present in his work, but resonates in the form of an emotional quotient rather than in any physical resemblance.
In order to ensure that viewers responded directly to the meanings of his work without reference to any extraneous factors, Zao began inscribing the date of a painting's completion on its reverse side and taking it as the name of the work in 1959. At this time, he also began to limit his palette to a few hues with the effect of fiercely concentrated simplicity. With a practiced, flowing brushstroke purely his own, Zao expressed his debt to Chinese calligraphy but also to the gestural brand of painting that occupied the West. In heavily encrusted paintings, he began to layer paint with a palette knife in the tradition of Gustave Courbet and Cezanne, and scrape the excess off the canvas with the wooden handle of the brush, creating fine lines in the midst of broad brushstrokes, and enriching the textural beauty of his work. His alternately rough, intense, imposing brushwork spread across the surface like bursts of light, waves of water, expanses of sky and terrains of earth. The painter's mood was also revealed, alternatively elated, sober, and restrained. Universal nature vibrated through the outpouring of his feelings. His work embodied the great Song Dynasty saying, 'To find within the great universe one small patch of ground in which all its wonders are implied'.
The present work is no exception; executed on the large scale that Zao took up in the late fifties, it captures a froth of browns - as tactile as the earth itself - with an elegant linear overlay of black, evoking both the force of nature and the individual rhythms of the hand.
Zao Wou-Ki (b. 1921)
Oil on canvas
Property from a Private American Collection
Signed 'Wou-Ki Zao' in Pinyin (lower right); signed and titled 'ZAO WOU-KI 30.10.61' (on the reverse)
New York, Kootz Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki, October 1961.
Tokyo, Presentation of the Salon de Mai, 1962.
Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hayden Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki, May-June 1964 (unpaged).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
51 x 77 in. (130 x 200 cm.)
J. Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Italy 1979, pl. 87 (illustrated in colour, p. 137).
Kootz Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1961.