Paysages intérieurs, 1947–2004 (Palais Bénédictine, Fécamp, through June 12)
Recent Works by Zao Wou-Ki (Marlborough Gallery, New York) (another set of images)
Académie des Beaux-Arts (Paris, France)
Zao Wou-Ki ou la sérénité retrouvée (Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, 2003)
Maîtres de l'encre (Masters of ink) (Musée de Pontoise, 1999)
The forty works on exhibit, often gigantic, illustrate the different creative periods of the Chinese-born artist and his progress from figural painting to abstraction. They derive from Zao Wou-Ki's various interior dream landscapes. Born in 1921, in Beijing, Zao Wou-Ki studied at the China Institute of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, where he learned the techiques of Chinese painting and of Western painting. In 1948, he landed in Paris, after 36 hours by boat. He settled in Montparnasse and, a day later, took in the artwork of the Louvre. Up to 1950 to 1952, his painting was figural, including still lifes, landscapes, architecture. As an inheritor of the Chinese calligraphic technique, which he had learned from the age of 5, he used the symbols and drew small characters in silhouette, standing out on a flat surface.Zao Wou-Ki has a special and longterm relationship with France: in 2002, he was elected as a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, taking the place of departed member Jean Carzou. His work was shown in 2003, as part of the Année de la Chine, in a major exhibit at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (before it became the national photography museum; see this review from my visit there last July).
Little by little, Zao Wou-Ki abandoned features for gesture and mark, which eventually invaded his picture space completely. He worked in the area of form, color, light, painting abstract landscapes evoking clouds, waves, the ocean depths. "After 1954, I became, as one says, an abstract painter. I did not seek to be one. The problem of abstracting my painting from the influence of reality became a necessity," he says. His meeting with Henri Michaux was decisive. The painter and poet presented him to Pierre Loeb, his dealer. Michaux saw in his dream-heavy and poetry-laden universe a natural form of painting. "It's through nature that Zao Wou-Ki encloses himself, shows himself, that he is slain, that he is brought back to life, that he falls, that he gets up, that he is enthusiastic, that he is completely for or completely against, that he is bubbly...that he says that he is smothered," says Michaux.
Zao Wou-Ki, Hommage à Michaux, three panels (1999–2000)