de Sarthe Gallery is proud to present Zao Wou-Ki: Ink and Watercolor
- a solo exhibition of major Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki (1920 – 2013) from March 12 to April 11, 2015, featuring, 14 masterpieces of ink and 6 works of watercolour dated as early as 1950. Together, the works celebrate an exciting synthesis of Chinese and Western art in the wake of World War II, marking a transformation of the artistic tradition that has until then benchmarked Chinese paintings. Following Zao Wou-Ki Paintings: 1950’s-1960’s
held in 2011, the show is the second Zao Wou-Ki exhibition de Sarthe Gallery is presenting.
Well versed in the Chinese literary and ink painting traditions practiced by artists like Mi Fu and Zhao Mengfu, Zao deviated from the tradition following his departure for Paris after World War II in search of artistic deliverance. At the impetus of his practice, Zao distanced his work from ink and the medium’s complex issues of cultural provenance. Oil painting became his major artistic practice until the early 1970’s, where circumstances beckoned for Zao to devote himself to the care of his ailing wife, May. During this time later known as the “Boundless Period”, Zao was encouraged by his contemporary, French poet Henri Michaux to explore ink art again. His practice released him from his sorrow and gave birth to a series of ink works rich in elements of Western abstract art. As Henri Michaux later commented,
“In his own way, Zao Wou-Ki invented another game with ink again. In a domain even more pure and complete, he broke free from restrictions imposed not only by predecessors but also his own ink paintings previously. Swelling, exploding and flowing, heaven, earth and human became one within this domain and infused into life itself. Despite the application of ink, the white color of xuan paper is perceptible across the canvas. This unexpected color of white is awakened. This ‘emptiness’ is indispensable in universal harmony, regardless of where it is.”
This is later echoed by Zao:
“It gives me tremendous pleasure to touch the wrinkles on xuan paper. How different it is from the canvas, which is always smooth and firm. The irregular marks as well as water on xuan paper create unexpected and endlessly interesting rendering effects. Once in contact with the paper, the ink soaks into the material, and through the varying pressure and speed controlled by the elbow, creates infinite variations of black, white and grey, a thousand shades of grey…I watch a space born under the paint brush, taking shape and soaring free as my imagination roams, spreading widely is a sense of lightness – lightness in brushstroke, lightness in colors, and lightness in the passing of time.”
Zao Wou-Ki: Ink and Watercolor
celebrates a hybrid of Chinese and Western art manifested with an unmistakable sense of lightness in the brushstrokes. In the light of a rising interest in Chinese art, the historically focused exhibition is a review of the development of art from China into a transcultural language.
About Zao Wou-Ki
Zao Wou-Ki (b. 1920, Beijing, China – d. 2013, Nyon, Switzerland) is one of the most internationally well-known Chinese artists. In 1935 he began attending the National School of Arts, Hangzhou, where he became a drawing instructor in 1941. In both his schooling and teaching, Zao moved freely between Chinese painting techniques and Western-inspired abstract compositions and found a profound affinity between the two traditions.
In 1947 Zao moved to Paris and quickly rose to prominence as an abstract gestural painter, befriending other artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miro. Abstraction was not well received in France during the immediate post–World War II period, as its apparent lack of content or subject were deemed inept to express the brutal realities of the war and its aftermath. But Zao and other artists such as Pierre Soulages and Hans Hartung were determined to show that abstract painting could speak to this very condition through the intuitive language of color and line. To this end, Zao began to paint more boldly than ever, combining expressive lines with deeply saturated color. In the mid-1950s he incorporated Chinese influences more directly, sometimes using actual calligraphy instead of loose and winding brushstrokes. During this period, Zao frequently traveled to New York, where he met Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, and other Abstract Expressionists. Later in the 1970s, Zao’s paintings become less focused on line and gesture, striving instead toward an ambient and dreamlike atmosphere in which foreground and background are entirely blurred. Taken in its entirety, Zao’s oeuvre reflects a continual struggle - the artist’s gesture versus the painter’s canvas.
The paintings of Zao's are part of the permanent collections of leading international museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Tate Gallery London; Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; National Institute of Fine Arts, Beijing; Hong Kong Museum of Art,; Kaohsiung Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan; The Museum of Tel Aviv,; Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan; Fukuoka Art Museum,; National Museum of Art, Osaka amongst others.
Press release courtesy Hong Kong.