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1990's

DE CORTANZE Gerard 1998

DE CORTANZE Gerard - Extract from ‘ Zao Wou-Ki, le peintre qui regarde autrement’ (Zao Wou-Ki, the painter who looks at things differently) in Zao Wou-Ki, Yves Bonnefoy and Gerard de Cortanze, La Différence Edition – Enrico Navarra, Paris, France, 1998 (pp. 52-53).

"(…) I am thinking of a canvas displaying intensity close to epiphany: 12.10.70. A wide field of vibratory green, a vacant space full of racket, a breach in the forest, a corner of sky taken over by leaves, a cave, the sketch of an ascending movement. And moreover, a great joy, a delight. This is odd. Zao Wou-Ki, despite not being religious, reaches in some of his paintings a joy bordering on religiousness. The universe is there, undoubtedly, vibrant with energy. This painting, like some others, re-creates life, gives life a meaning and allows a piece of holiness to inhabit our human condition. The canvas absorbs the being, swallowing it up and demonstrating the power of the universe. Where does this power come from? How can one put in harmony to such an extent the sky and the earth and give it to man? Paul Klee, in his journal, reminisces the light and shadow as the material of the graphic world, reminds us that the painter, preoccupied with the form, understands that there is a « remnant ». This « remnant » represents awaken consciousness and creation, helps to make one’s way through the formal approach, keeps hope between the visible and the invisible, the perishable and the imperishable. In such desire to paint, the movement may be motionless but in this case, its stillness will be the stillness of a mirror and its answer, the answer of the echo. Zao Wou-Ki sets a mirror and gets in some resonance. In the studio, when I am looking at the painting, I can touch this stillness with my fingers and I am captured by the echo, and when Zao Wou-Ki talks, I am filled with emotion. His painting opens up another world that I already knew without being aware. The painter puts me before the field of Sacred which outlines the distance that keeps me apart from it and offers to shorten it and, thus, making it more human. (…)".       

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BONNEFOY Yves 1998

BONNEFOY Yves – Extract from « Pour introduire à Zao Wou-Ki » (An introduction to Zao Wou-Ki) in Zao Wou-Ki, Yves Bonnefoy and Gerard de Cortanze, La Différence Editions – Enrico Navarra, Paris, France, 1998 (pp. 27-28).  

"(…) Zao Wou-Ki plans to reunite in color – in the same way color attempts to express the world through oil – a knot of self-perception that would be the most rebellious as possible against words or thought, the most despoiled from what one sees when one stops to feel red or blue as simple blue or red and, also, the most foreign to these harmonies that are formed when one stands back – by doing so, already eluding true experience – in order to appreciate what is called beauty. A «journey to color» as if every time one lays red or blue, one had to become the color oneself, only color, and not through a set of discrepancies in a range, but as the flame is fire, meaning simultaneously the evasive part and the whole, including the iridescence on the crown of the heat and the blow of the latter which breaks it.

And why are there such poetic rules concerning the color itself, the experienced but unseen color? Because when one reaches a red embodied by nothing – not even a fire – a blue that is no longer, although almost violet, the reminder on canvas of an impression of mountain, to a backwash of yellow or green representing more for us than a reminiscence of a river or a stormy sky, then this envelop of things that represents color in the West is now torn apart and deprived from its protective role by which the world used to get access to what one believed was the living being. Fundamental outcomes follow for the beings in the world and also, admittedly, for painting in this debate where Zao Wou-Ki has now committed it.    

(…) I am looking at these paintings and tell myself, yes indeed, I am called here away from myself, forward in this place which is no longer a place. These paintings, without any doubt, cross the line of appearance. Undoubtedly they cover themselves, such as wide sails, with the phosphorescent foam of non-being, non-wanting. I was not wrong to describe Zao Wou-Ki’s work through the absence of reference, the absence of knowledge. This painter is complying with the lesson of the East. However, am I able to exclude – no I am not – that there are in him, in his need for liberation, even, thoughts, feelings, fighting back when the big wave swells? They tell him, even, and loud, that they are entitled to do so. " (…).  

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DUBY Georges 1996

DUBY Georges – Extract from the foreword of the catalogue of the exhibition A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki at the Museum of Fine Arts of Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung Fine Arts Museum Edition, Taiwan, 1996 (pp.19-20)

Text retrieved for the catalogue of the exhibition Infinite Image and Space - A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki at the Hong Kong Museum of Fine Arts, Urban Council of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1996.

"(…) Zao Wou-Ki acknowledged that “a part of myself was forgotten, buried under things … I feel I am quite disengaged from Chinese painting. Now it seems to me that it is part of my universe”. Indeed, he needed to disengage himself and break free from every ritualized process among which the act of painting in ancient China was trapped. It was essential, in order to recognize himself finally and freely as a Chinese painter. The imprints left by his early childhood, for a while faded, became more prevalent with age. The earliest memories, all the legacy of hereditary culture, imperceptibly returned from his innermost being. But what in this painting looks Chinese, seen with the eyes of a Westerner? And, first of all, what is not ?   The rejection of figuration, obviously, the preferences of canvas and oil to paper and to wash tint, finally, and foremost, the absolute rule of color, all betray Chinese tradition. However, in my opinion, three characteristics of the said tradition demonstrate its resurgence.

First of all, the function of the stroke. At first sight, its presence is imperceptible. However, a careful examination reveals its essential influence. Forming the fundamental texture of the painted work, a multitude of blurred strokes cover each other, interfere, combine with each other, disappear, spurt back here and there, pour out and blend in the shimmering limpidity, conferring upon the colored matter its smooth thickness and its succulent, endless richness, with the constant desire to continue painting marks, subtly, willfully, from the tip of the paintbrush, in order to spin at last the web-like mounting on which, the composition lays, unsubstantial.

Precisely, in the composition, it seems I can also see China reappearing in the arrangement of the aesthetic components and in the portion allocated to empty space set in a central position within and uncircumscribed area. All the while, the whole painting is built on a clash, a conflict which is also a harmony, on the hesitant balance between fullness and emptiness, between what is coarse, oppressive, dark, harsh and solid – represented by the mountain, the rocks, the earth in classical Chinese painting – and the effusions, fumes, breezes – depicted in the Chinese tradition by the wandering waters, the sky, the clouds and the haze.

However, I feel the most Chinese peculiarity lays in the relationship between the painter, his work and the one who looks at it. In China, painting has never been a pure object of sensual enjoyment. It always had a purpose. Such purpose was not sacrificial, like in medieval European Christian art, and the painting was not considered as an offering to supernatural powers. It was not used for telling of events, maintaining a historical memory, passing on instructions or prompting people to act one way or another. As a mediator, painting only claimed to promote a passage. It was an open door into enchantment. (…)."

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PEI Ieoh Ming 1996

PEI Ieoh Ming – Extract from the foreword of the catalogue of the exhibition Zao Wou-Ki. Encres de Chine (India inks), 1982-1996. A tribute to Pierre Matisse at the Jan Krugier Gallery in New York, Jan Krugier and Maria Gaetana Matisse Edition, New York, United States, 1996.

Text translated into French for the catalogue of the exhibition Zao Wou-Ki, Encres (inks), 1953 – 1999, at the Salle des Ecritures in Figeac, Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou Editions, Cajac, France, 1999

"In the spring of 1971, my wife Eileen and I paid a visit to our old Zao friends (…). However, he showed me a portfolio of ink paintings he had painted to pass the time. These paintings represented his first attempts of traditional China ink painting on paper since he had left China and come to France in 1948. He maintained that he had not been influenced by traditional Chinese painting.

I was enthralled … The lines were ethereal all the while infinitely detailed. However, the most significant, in my opinion, was that these ink paintings spoke the same language as his oil paintings, despite the great differences that exist between both techniques. I still remember how impressed I was to discover that he was a painter in the Western tradition, inspired by a Chinese aesthetic sensibility. Such sensibility forms the keystone of his evolution as an artist. (…)."

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DAIX Pierre 1994

DAIX Pierre – Extract from Zao Wou-Ki – L’œuvre (Zao Wou-Ki – Artwork) 1935-1993, Ides et Calendes Editions, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1994 (pp. 7-12).

"Although very diverse, Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings bear, since he created his personal language at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, his signature at every point of their composition, like the seal of an art in a strange country where spaces coming from the field of cosmology and the signs of ancient China merge with spaces created from the modern riddance, in the West, from perspective, from Cezanne to this lyrical abstraction which rapidly expanded after the Second World War. Thus there is a strange stretch of time, since the latter seems never to cease in his paintings, between the first displays of this Chinese characteristic to convey in art the breath of the universe and the end of our century. There is no such thing as progress in art and Zao Wou-Ki knows it better than anyone else. One only needs to hear him enthuse when looking at the most ancient three-base wine containers discovered from the Bronze Age in China among Neolithic objects, as well as the Tang painters or primitive calligraphy (the most spontaneous calligraphy). However, if it is true that there is no progress, then the artist who does not bear in him the vision of his time can only remain an epigone. Wou-Ki’s painting is in line with the immemorial tradition of Chinese art, because, rather than following it, it brings forth questions about the meaning of art, and more precisely, the meaning of painting. Such questions arose from our Western modernism and the revolutions occurred in painting when it broke free, in France, from the masterpieces of the Renaissance considered as unsurpassable. (…)".

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CHESSEX Jacques 1990

CHESSEX Jacques – Extract from the foreword of the catalogue of the exhibition Zao Wou-Ki at the Galerie Jan Krugier in Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier Edition, Geneva, Switzerland, 1990.

(…) "Thus, all the recent paintings by Zao Wou-Ki appear to be impervious to any anguish, any obsession about time. Shrugging off the wearing effect of time, aging, and destruction. Showing an ethereal and immediate trust in the powers of pure painting. The youth of these paintings simultaneously reaches what is essential as a result of abstraction and attention to this fresh and first quintessence that is the product of many years of patient summarization, of skilful plastic and philosophical evolution. A metamorphosis to freshness. A transparent idealization of life circumstances and reassessments, of intermissions, of a tense calling maintaining this spring-like spurt in transfigured matter. "

" There is this effect of exaltation towards what is essential and cosmic, similar to meditation that goes through the sublimation of the matter, remaining here miraculously present and compact. There is the sensual and luscious wonder of these painted spaces. In addition, this painting, from which the human figure is absent, condenses to a very high extent the power of inspiring the mark of man, his own memory and the memory of all his passages in what is mundane and what is sublime (…)."

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