DAGEN Philippe - Extract from « Passage de la couleur » (Passage of color), catalogue of the exhibition Zao Wou-Ki. L’encre, l’eau, l’air, la couleur. Encres de Chine et aquarelles (Zao Wou-Ki. Ink, water, air, color. India inks and watercolors) 1954-2007 at the Musée de l’Hospice Saint-Roch in Issoudun, Albin Michel Editions, Paris, France, 2008 (pp. 15-19).

(…) "When the viewer looks at one of his watercolors from the 1960’s or the more recent ones, he is overwhelmed by the same feeling: the space seems to open and enlarge itself, without any upper or lower side retracting or shrinking. Neither the law of gravitation nor the laws of perspective is effective. In a world freed from its usual landmarks, color leakages and splatters designate no object – or maybe, some tentative marks of a landscape – waters, lands and skies. Some air must be circulating since one can feel it: breezes, gusts of wind, invisible currents carrying colorful hazes. If (very rarely) the eye seems to recognize a picture – leaves or flowers, it perceives as simultaneously that Zao Wou-Ki has not attempted to depict it. Watercolor does not allow it more than ink: one can see the paper, the successive strokes of the paintbrush and, even more clearly, the water content. Watercolor does not tolerate any trompe-l’œil or realism likely to deceive the senses. (…).

Evoking a « less world » comes to this: suggesting that a watercolor by Zao Wou-Ki, as his ink paintings, has the subtle power to untie for a moment the tight connections that retain each man of our time in the « system of the objects », in the empire of production and purpose. There lays a salutary effect. Because the artist is Chinese, because he has remained close to this civilization of his origin, it is tempting to compare this virtue of his paintings with those that the well-read people and philosophers used to confer to stones of strange shapes and colors for example. Through their observation of these stones, they moved away from their contemporary world, its businesses and events. These stones provided them with the opportunity to stand back, escape gravitation. Should you be willing to take the time to sustain their influence, Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings can also allow such escapes." (…).

The discovery of his most recent watercolors is a complete surprise: had we previously seen the artist go so far in terms of blasting and projecting forms? Breaking any principle pertaining to composition and venturing towards some kind of « all over », where the white surface becomes the empty space, where spots and lines of colors interlace and dance? Alternatively, taking the concept of liquidity to the point where the painting prompts to immersion, a long dive and a slow shifting along the submarine alike currents for which the watercolor painting becomes the mysterious map?

When the red colors rules, one cannot avoid a more physical feeling, like blood pressure, the thumping of life shows itself under its most immediate form – organic, almost cellular. One would say that, as a result of all his experiments and ellipsis, Zao Wou Ki finally achieved the shortest and most immediate posing of his own existence, his life turned into colors and gestures. One could even say that he now sometimes prefers to use his fingers than the beautiful paintbrushes and meticulously cleaned brushes in his studio – finger paintings, according to the vocabulary of pre-historians, which we are not referring to incidentally – and the projection of a shower of drops. In each case, the method is as simple as it can be and absolutely freed from any previous know-how, style affectation and any concern of virtuosity. Signs, simple signs of a passage, almost like footsteps in the snow." (...)

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