‘No Limits’: How 2019 Could be a Defining Year for Zao Wou-Ki, MutualArt, 02.21.2019.
Initiated at a very young age to the secular discipline of caligraphy, steeped in the great Han and Song tradition, trained in Western painting in its most academic acceptance, open to the modernity of Cézanne and Matisse through his readings, Zao Wou -Ki chose in 1948 to leave for France, to discover “real painting”.
Shortly after his arrival, his registration at the Grande Chaumière and his visits to the Nina Dausset gallery offered him the opportunity to forge close ties with Jean-Paul Riopelle and Sam Francis. In 1950, the decisive meeting with Henri Michaux marked the beginning of a flawless friendship; his confidence commits him to continue to penetrate contemporary Western art. In 1951, the discovery of Paul Klee’s work was a revelation to him; then there is a symbiosis between the musicality of Chinese calligraphy and the scores of Paul Klee.
Little by little, Zao Wou-Ki, frees himself from these various influences to acquire his own language, a synthesis of the sign and the Chinese allusion and Western lyricism. His flamboyant gestures, sometimes brutal, sometimes deep and serene, his way of making the light vibrate, echo the abstraction of the second school of Paris, the gesture of Soulages, the signs of Alechinsky, the scratches of Hartung, to the vehemence of Riopelle or to the interior light of Manessier.
After denying the techniques of traditional Chinese painting for many years and turning to oil painting, aquatint and lithography, he rediscovered in 1972, on the advice of Henri Michaux, the ink of China. To reconnect with its deep origins paradoxically opens the way to total freedom. From then on, the work is constructed as an “existential quest” to reach silence; it is filled with the tradition and the Chinese thought of the void, translating its interior space and its happiness to paint and engrave.
It is undoubtedly because of the Chinese tradition, where painting and poetry are intimately linked, that throughout his life Zao Wou-Ki will accompany the texts of his friends poets and writers – René Char, André Malraux, François Cheng, … – engravings and lithographs. The engraving was for Zao Wou-Ki an ideal ground favorable to the meditation and the return to the self.