FRECHES José - Extract from « Le souffle et l’âme (Breath and Soul) » in Zao Wou-Ki – Œuvres, écrits, entretiens (Zao Wou-Ki - Works, writings, interviews), first published by Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 2007, and Editions Hazan, Paris, France, 2007 (pp. 14-15).

"… To a student at the Hangzhou School of Fine Art (Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts) - where he had been invited to teach for a month in the spring of 1985 - and who asked him how he painted his paintings, Zao Wou-Ki answered without hesitation:

- I do not know how to show. I can only paint.

Such answer, typical of a Taoist master to his students, summarizes better than any other what is Zao Wou-Ki: an artist entirely focused on the canvas that he is about to cover with colors – straight away, not tomorrow because tomorrow is another day! – in the silence of his studio where he locks himself away from the world.

For him, painting means entering, racked with fear of repeating himself, into an ultimate haven where he feels good. It means spending the time of the day, pushing away as far as possible the night of insomnia. It means covering the distance, pushing away the limits, exploring space. It means walking alongside the hollowness of incommensurable abysses. It means touching fluffy clouds, it means diving into opalescent hazes.

In the very beginning, the canvas is empty. This emptiness will need to be filled in but also sometimes, protected and set aside. Exalting emptiness, filling in emptiness…Depicting the « non existing » by shapes and colours on a canvas which really exists…a canvas – an object! – that the artist will have to challenge, against which he might fight, sometimes scratching it, sometimes caressing it and whispering loving words, like a woman he wants to seduce…a canvas which, after much acceptance, might also take revenge of its« aggressor » in the end, by forcing him to scratch off everything and re-do it all, like Sisyphus and his rock …

The ease of execution is only an appearance. What one believes to be the outcome of a first draft is actually the consequence of complex repeated processes made of various colours overlapping and remorse indefinitely painted over. 

The magic of Shapeless – the magic of the Tao itself, of the emptiness, its riches, its depth, its complexity, its ultimate drives, the feelings, emotions provided to those close to it, the favours granted to those who know it well because they are able to free themselves from everything and «clear their minds » (as the saying goes), none of this is easy to capture, record, retrace and convey.

This is the place where the creative alchemy takes place: in the silent studio (…) that he has difficulty to leave for more than ten straight days because, despite his apparent composure and warm serenity, Wou-Ki, who cares little about talking about what he does and the way he does it, considering – rightly so – that his work speaks for itself, is always in the urgency to become familiar with the emptiness and the virgin canvas.

And it is precisely when he puts himself in danger of facing this emptiness that Wou-Ki creates his world.

Evaporation, coagulation, storm rains, sedimentation, ebullience, whispers, murmurs, tears, escapes, short cuts, dream catchers, clouds of strokes, lakes of dreams, mountains of energies, desperate seas, hazes of joy, volcanoes of love, trees of tenderness, paths of solitude, philosopher’s stones; references to facts, tributes to women and men; digressions, variations, expansions; tensions, distortions, dead calms, wash tints, washings, thickenings; gliding, bucks, twists; allegro, piano, vivace … at times ma non troppo and in other times molto forte; Zao Wou-Ki’s painting is alchemical and musical …"

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