Zao Wou-ki, is 92 and he’s the top-selling living Chinese artist at auction.
He is well known for melding the application of Western brushwork to traditional Chinese landscape painting of the East. But at 92, he is too frail to continue painting. But before Zao Wou-ki hung up the brushes, he created a round of vivid watercolors.
Zao is a unique cross-cultural figure. Born in Beijing in 1921, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou before moving to Paris in 1948. His early work was heavily influenced by painters like Paul Klee and Othon Friesz, but he eventually shifted towards an abstract approach, especially after he spent time in New York, Hong Kong and Japan in 1958.
By the 1960s, Zao had developed his own, distinctive style, which often reflected an expressionist take on Chinese landscape painting.
FEAST Projects’ Exhibition Zao Wou-Ki – Beyond
Director Philippe Koutouzis’ interview is featured in RTHK TV programme : The Works, broadcasted on 30th October 2012, titled U-Theatre.
Painter Zao Wou-Ki was born in 1921 in Beijing, but moved to France in 1948. Now in his nineties, he no longer paints, but during his working life he has already created a massive legacy of abstract work, much of which seems to reflect the process of creation itself. Currently showing in Hong Kong’s FEAST Projects is Beyond, a selection of the water colours to which he returned in his later years.
On view in the “Beyond” exhibition in Hong Kong are a group of exceptional, large watercolour paintings coming directly from the artists studio, dated from 2004 to 2009. They belong to the most recent period in Zao Wou-Kis work: a series of large format watercolours that have dominated his pictorial output since 2004.
The works show a masterly control mixed with a spontaneous fluidity. Some were painted from nature, directly observing subjects such as flamboyant flowers, intertwining branches or a symphonic landscape. They convey with freshness and immediacy Zaos intimate appreciation of Chinese and Western culture.
Zao Wou-Ki declares, Although the influence of Paris is undeniable in all my training as an artist, I also wish to say that I have gradually rediscovered China. It has affirmed itself as my deeper personality. In my recent paintings, this is expressed in an innate manner. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest origins.
From an essay for an exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, NYC:
By the end of 1957 he had committed to abstraction, on terms which from the beginning set him apart from the other artists of his circleMitchell, Riopelle, Vieira da Silva, Soulagesas much as from his great supporter Henri Michaux. His cypher-like signature, to which he has remained faithful for over fifty years, gives his first name in Chinese characters and his last in a Western orthography. It is emblematic of a stranded cultural identity, recognized from the first by sympathetic critics as the key to his artistic direction. The recognition, however, took the form of a view of Zaos painting as an exemplary reconciliation of Chinese and European aesthetics, in which the language of modern Western abstraction is enriched by a Chinese sensibility rooted in the past.(From the by Jonathan Hay)
When an exhibition of Zao Wou Ki’s works was arranged last year (2011) at a new gallery in Hong Kong, the gallery dealer described the artist in this way: “Hes one of the few Asian artists who kept his roots intact, says de Sarthe. Nowadays, we see so many artists who are doing the same thing as everyone in New York or elsewhere. Its a shame because artists are a reflection of their culture. Even if were becoming more alike, Chinese people still dont live the same way as Americans, and their work should reflect that.
Zao Wou-Ki: Hommage à Claude Monet et Aquarelles Inédites Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France
When Zao Wou-Ki arrived to live in Paris at age 27, Claude Monet was among the artists who was most inspirational to him. Zao created a magnificent tryptych in 1991, which he dedicated as an homage to Monet.
As he was sensitive to the particular links to the Musée de Rouen as a bellwether of Impressionism, Zao decided to place this exceptional work within their collection. To show appreciation for his generosity, about fifteen, watercolors, which were painted between 2003 and 2009, are being presented for the first time in a new exhibition. These watercolors reveal how Zao, in recent years, has restructured his response to the landscapes and nature.
Special Event at Asia Society in Hong Kong: Panel on Zao Wou-ki
A woman walks past the world’s largest triptych ever, produced by painter Zao Wou-ki and displayed at the Christie’s Hong Kong Spring Auction preview in Hong Kong on May 26, 2005. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Zao Wou-ki: More Biographical Information
ZAO Wou-Ki, at 92 years old, is a Chinese French painter and one of the worlds most prominent contemporary artist. Highlights of his life long achievements include: election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in France, the decoration of Grand Officier de lOrdre de la Légion dHonneur by the President of France, the Praemium Imperiale Award for Painting by the Japanese Art Association in Tokyo, Japan and numerous important solo and retrospective shows in museums throughout the world, the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in France; the National Art Museum of China; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, to name a few.
Born in 1920, Zao began his training at the age of 15 at the School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, under its founder Lin Fengmian. In 1948 he left China for Paris to study modern painting. Zao is part of the second generation of Chinese modern artists who went to Paris. With his two contemporaries Chu Teh-Chun and Tang Haywen, he belongs to a group of overseas Chinese painters who merged Chinese and European philosophy of art and aesthetics by inventing their own new abstract language. Once established in Europe, Zao found resonance in the creative journeys of both Paul Cézanne and Paul Klee. He worked towards representing subconscious levels of experience, leading to a penetrating form of artistic expression that transcends east and west, and melds intuition and consciousness. The result is a new perception of the meaning of art.
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