Zao Wou -Ki works to dominate Christie's HK Asian 20th century sale Nov 26-27

Untitled (1951)
Christie's HK will auction a series of extremely important and rare works by Zao Wou-Ki on Nov 26-27. With chefs-d’oeuvres from the early 1950s "still life and landscape" period and the mid-1950s "oracle" works and "abstract landscapes" from the mid-1960s, the sale traces Zao’s creative expedition from figurative representation to abstraction, presenting collectors with a profound insight into the most crucial transitional phase in the evolution of Zao’s career.

Zao's work embraced the finest elements of Tang and Sung dynasty landscape painting, finding new meanings in that traditionwhile also incorporating Western art's expressive use of color, light, and shadow. As such he created a new artistic language that achieved a reconciliation of Chinese and European aesthetics.

Combat de Coqs

As Zao Wou-ki d├ębuted in the international art scene in the 1950s, he was amazed by Paul Klee’s works with its strong Eastern characteristics, and Klee quickly served as Zao’s muse and inspiration for the works that would follow, and Zao’s fascination with heritage and the re-invention of the traditional Chinese aesthetic language formed the creative axis of hisartistic corpus for decades.

Works from this period, such as Untitled (1951), made use of lines and spatial suggestion to deconstruct traditional landscapes. The deployment of thin layers of diluted oil with a translucent quality gives a clear halo effect resembling that of ink painting washes, creating nuances that form a unique depth of field and exude a tranquil and poetic air.

Combat de Coqs (1954) sets heavy ink-black and imposing red lines upon thin washes of grayish taupe, suggesting the phoenix’s birth from fire. The calligraphic strokes join and part in different directions, depicting motion, signifying the artist’s return to the classic composition of points, lines and planes to represent the phoenix’s half-real, half-dreamlike image.

Cerf Volant et Oiseaux
 Cerf Volant et Oiseaux uses vermillion as the key tone. The somber brown on the top of the canvas show traces of metallic engraving, as if scratches left by ancient Chinese bronze artifacts. The juxtaposition of thin, diluted layers and dry strokes of white at the centre suggest shifting movements of light sources. Zao Wou-ki draws on the structural aesthetic of Chinese writing and calligraphy, exemplifying the tension and openness achievable through stroke alignment and character forms. 


The 1960s marked a tumultuous time for Zao Wou-ki in both his personal and creative life, causing him to divert all his passion and emotions in his art. Looking back in 1985, Zao Wouki noted, "
I started painting in oil in 1935. It was not until 1964—a good thirty years later—that I learnt how to paint in freedom."

This freedom is powerfully present in the works that emerged from this period.In 22.7.64, the yellow, white and black fine lines and broad, dynamic strokes interlacing in the foreground, are set against the airy and profound background, enticing the viewers’ eyes to voyage into a deeper, more metaphysical space. The work presents a tantalizing play between the real and imaginary, between proximity and depth, as well as the technical feat of contrasting lines to create both movement and stationary space.

Traditional Chinese ink paintings employ multiple points of perspective to present an overview of the visual state of objects, facilitating the convergence and coexistence of movementand stillnessfrom different temporal points—all within the same composition. Since the 1950s, Zao Wou-ki has been persistently pushing for breakthroughs in the heritage and development of traditional oriental aesthetics, in terms of both formal composition and in creative essence. 22.7.64 demonstrates Zao’s difference in creative motivation from other western abstract expressionist artists, and marks a fundamental return of Zao’s artistic drive to the humanist aesthetics epitomized by the Tang, Song Dynasty ink paintings.