Battants sur le toit

Peintures en bâtiment et peintures sans tuiles, poésies par la fenêtre et proses sur le toit, les deux pouvant se retrouver en faisant école... buissonnière, musiques de chambre et de cour, fenêtres ouvertes sur toutes les portées... danses sur le fil

27 janvier 2007

"Aprés l'éclipse" de Zao wou-Ki

Aprés l'éclipse
11 Aout 99
79 x 96 inches (250 x 200 cm)

Extrait de l'essai  de J. Hay :

For New Yorkers a reassessment of Zao Wou-ki’s work is long overdue. Since the last of the sixteen solo shows that he held in the United States from 1952 until the retirement of his long-time New York dealer Sam Kootz in 1968, Zao has had only limited exposure in the United States. His ink monochromes were seen at Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1980, and at Jan Krugier in 1998; the last exhibition of his oil paintings was at Pierre Matisse in 1986. In contrast, during the last thirty-five years his profile elsewhere in the world, especially Europe and Asia, could hardly have been higher, with a constant flow of solo shows, not to mention retrospectives of which the first was held at the Grand Palais in 1981. Several factors combined to marginalize his work in the United States: the conceptual turn that painting took here in the 1960s, a concomitant suspicion of transcendentalist ambition in painting that could only be confirmed by the discourse around Zao’s work, a more general sidelining of Paris-based artists, and the more limited prevalence in New York of the intense fascination for China from which Zao benefited in France. Today, however, the circumstances are more propitious. New York is in the midst of rediscovering the painting of post-war Paris, and enough time has passed for it to be possible to look afresh at the sublime visions of high modernist abstraction. Above all there is now for the first time a generalized awareness of intercultural experience as an independently complex, formative factor in the styles of countless modern and contemporary artists. Let us hope that these factors conspire happily in Zao Wou-ki’s favor because, far from being a living monument, he is a vital painter whose work of the last twenty years represents, in this writer’s view, the height of his achievement.

The evolution of his painting came, as Zao has said, by stages. The commitment to abstraction followed his only extended stay in the United States, where he encountered Abstract Expressionism first-hand at the height of its prestige. Freed by its example to commit himself more physically to the painting, he developed an art in which the seeming gestural performance was in fact painstakingly constructed, its role ultimately subordinate to the atmospherics of each work. Until about 1972 Zao explored the multiple possibilities of this approach, in paintings that were latterly sometimes on a very large scale (as large as two meters by five). The remainder of the 1970s, however, were a period of reorientation, from which survives a body of work divided between two approaches. On the one hand, he pushed his earlier mode to extremes of dramatic effect, almost as if seeking to persuade himself that it could hold his interest for ever. But concurrently he took up ink painting again—he had learnt to handle the Chinese brush in his youth—with enormous success and with a decisive if intermittent impact on his practice of oil painting. In the paintings of the mid- to late seventies that register this impact most fully, he laid aside the sharp gesturalist rhetoric that had been his trademark, replacing it with a softened, blunted markmaking that fused image and space in a new, arguably more subtle way that recalls the alchemy of ink and xuan paper. In the course of 1979 Zao abandoned his older approach altogether and devoted himself entirely to the new stylistic direction that he had traced out for himself in a few key paintings of the 1970s. Out of this shift came a decade of work that attains a state of grace: a quality of gesture that is stripped of all hurriedness and creates a more powerful “bone-structure” (to use a term from Chinese calligraphy and painting), a luminosity extending from infinite softness to enveloping darkness, a topography of form that opens itself to stillness and silence. Crucially, the artist expunged his earlier volontarist effort to control the pictorial space through directive brushstrokes, allowing now a more active structuring role to fields of color and pattern as a counterweight to the brushstrokes and the image fragments created by them. Around 1990, he further calibrated this late approach, extending the perameters of his worldmaking to include ravishing compositions dominated by saturated hues where he largely eschews the infinite possibilities of his beloved black. As if to commemorate this new-found coloristic freedom and acknowledge one of its sources, in 1991 he painted the triptych Hommage à Monet, a clear predecessor to the equally monumental triptych included here, Hommage à mon ami Henri Michaux, painted nine years later.

The paintings in the present exhibition date from 1993 to 2002. Some, like 01.02.1997 and 11.8.99 (an undeclared hommage to Monet), join the triptych in coloristic hedonism. These paintings have rich, sensuous surfaces that repay the closest attention, dense as they are with pourings, spatterings, wipes, accretions, and marks of all sorts. Contrastingly, several other works favor understatement, with muted harmonies that are sometimes pointed up by a touch of more intense color (28.10.2001; 15.11.01; 24.02.2002). Here the surfaces tend to be less worked and there is a particular lightness of touch. Between these two poles are situated all manner of hybrids in which Zao searches for an equilibrium between a saturated hue—a vermilion, an acid yellow—and more muted harmonies of color built around black/grey/brown/white brush traces that hint at an image (10.01.2001 – 08.03.2002; 01.07.2001). The exhibition also includes certain works in which he looks back to his own earlier styles. His approach of the late nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties is reinterpreted in the roiling rhythms of 27.02.98 via a less impetuous brush-trace. And 21.08.95 alludes to work from the mid-nineteen-fifties when he was still engaged with a project of ideographic sign-making. The character-like forms dropping from the sky revive the columns of pseudo-characters in Hommage à Qu Yuan (5.05.55), in both cases evoking without imitating them the archaic inscriptions cast into the ritual bronze vessels of China’s ancient past.(...)

all images © Zao Wou-Ki archives

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