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  • Introduction

     

    Christine Ay Tjoe is a contemporary Indonesian artist and one of the leading abstract artists of her generation. Her powerful yet delicate abstractions are animated by textures and colours that ebb and flow across the canvas, arresting the viewer with an emotional depth and rawness that are hallmarks of her practice. 

     

    'Seen and unseen'

     

    When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle showcases Ay Tjoe’s inimitable style, with an innate understanding of the relationship between line, space and colour. Ay Tjoe’s early training as a graphic artist helped her to master many unconventional mediums, including intaglio drypoint printing and etching. Though Ay Tjoe moved onto painting in her now signature medium of oil bar on canvas, the influence of her early training survives in the graphic and structural feel to her works. Each mark and brushstroke takes on a character and life of its own: light, whispery strokes of white and watery blue are overcome by bold, smudged blood-red streaks, whilst ominous darker tones rise up from the underlayers and encroach upon the periphery.

    "It’s how I see people merge in society; you see people and they look lovely but there are layers hidden underneath." —Christine Ay TjoeAy Tjoe’s beautiful works are reflective of her inner thoughts, and she paints in a spontaneous and intuitive - almost spiritual - way during periods of intense concentration, using strong, charged colours that connect with the viewer’s most powerful emotions and deepest fears. The expressive gestural qualities and frenetic energy contained within the monumental canvas When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle immerse the viewer in waves of raw emotion and candid depths of vulnerability. Ay Tjoe aptly describes her compositions as ‘layers which are seen and unseen’, explaining that ‘it’s how I see people merge in society; you see people and they look lovely but there are layers hidden underneath’.i Characters and creatures form spontaneously between the lines of her paintings, and When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle, completed when Ay Tjoe had just become a mother, harnesses these creations to speak of the battle between existential struggles and supernatural forces.

     

    A Move to Abstraction 

     

    2013 was a seminal year for the artist, when Ay Tjoe’s style evolved definitively from figuration to abstraction. Some of her best works were created that year, including the holder of the Ay Tjoe’s world auction record Small Flies and Other Wings, and Layer as a Hiding Place. Whilst When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle retains some vestiges of figurative language with the same fly-like creatures that feature in Small Flies and Other Wings crushed into black smears around the edges of the red circle, here Ay Tjoe places a greater emphasis on expressing pure, brute emotion in the blunt, whirling streaks of colour.

     

    Christine Ay Tjoe, Small Flies and Other Wings, 2013. Phillips, Hong Kong, 28 May 2017, lot 29

    'My interest point is human beings'

     

    Ay Tjoe’s rich, multi-layered approach associates her with a long lineage of great female expressionist painters such as Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner. Both artists exude the same gestural physicality as Ay Tjoe, with distinctive lyrical rhythms in their brushstrokes that appear both spontaneous and instinctive. Mitchell’s somber 1960s paintings, conceived under the cloud of her father’s death and her mother’s cancer diagnosis, concentrate the vigour of her earlier all-over brushwork into darker, centralised masses on multiple panels (see for example Untitled (1964)). After the untimely death of her husband Jackson Pollock in a 1956 car crash, Krasner restricted her palette to reds and greens, instinctively scraping the pigment across large canvases until visceral forms emerged (see for example Another Storm (1963)). Like Ay Tjoe, their works radiate an unabashed, sensuous passion that is distinctly feminine yet universally relatable, reinterpreting potent signs of meaning and feeling through the lens of their own subjective experiences. 

     

    Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1964, Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle evokes the fearlessness of the Abstract Expressionists, but eschews the hackneyed machismo of its poster boys Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Whilst the action painter Pollock leadened and collapsed the picture space with his drip paintings (see for example Number One, 1950 (Lavender Mist)), Ay Tjoe’s intuitive brushstrokes discover new spaces within the canvas, skilfully creating spatial tension and poetic naturalistic forms that recall the force of sweeping winds barreling through the air. And in contrast to de Kooning's somewhat vulgar abstract portraits of vampish females which objectified their subjects with aggressive, thick swathes of paint (in particular his notorious Woman series), Ay Tjoe transmutes that muscular bravura into something that speaks to the universality of human experience: ‘My interest point is human beings,’ she has said. ‘In my works, I talk more about what will happen in terms of human trends, local or global; what I see as possibilities in my mind, personal ideas.’ii

     

    Lee Krasner, Another Storm, 1963. Installation view from ‘Living Colour’, Barbican Art Gallery. 30 May — 1 September 2019. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

    Collector’s digest


    Ay Tjoe has been honoured with solo exhibitions at prestigious venues around the world, including a major mid-career retrospective at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (2018). In 2017 Ay Tjoe’s work Small Flies and Other Wings (2013) sold at Phillips Hong Kong for HK$ 11,720,000 (US$ 1.5 million). She is represented by White Cube Gallery in London.

     

    i Christine Ay Tjoe, quoted in ‘Now Showing: Christine Ay Tjoe, Inside the White Cube’, ELEPHANT, 15 July 2016, online
    ii Ay Tjoe, quoted in White Cube, Christine Ay Tjoe, April 2016, online

    • Provenance

      Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Singapore, Pearl Lam Galleries, Where Does it All Begin? Contemporary Abstract Art in Asia and the West, 17 January - 28 February 2014
      Seoul, SongEun ArtSpace, Christine Ay Tjoe: Perfect Imperfection, 28 April - 20 June 2015, p. 59 (illustrated)

Property from an Important Southeast Asian Collection

19

When Black and Red Could Hardly be a Circle

2013
signed and dated 'Christine 13' lower right; further signed, titled and dated 'ay tjoe Christine "When Black and Red Could hardly be a Circle" 2013' on the reverse
oil on canvas
202 x 173 cm. (79 1/2 x 68 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 
€433,000-650,000
$513,000-769,000

Sold for HK$4,788,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020