Sur les traces (also known as Transformation)

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  • Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
    Acquavella Modern Art, New York
    Galerie Lelong, Paris
    Sotheby’s, New York, 27 May 2010, Lot 17
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Lam, Recent Paintings, 1945
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Wifredo Lam, Early Works, 1942-1951, 1982, no. 11 (illustrated)
    San Juan, Arsenal de la Puntilla, Wifredo Lam, obras desde 1938 hasta 1975, de regreso al Caribe, 1992
    New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Wifredo Lam and his Contemporaries 1938-1952, 1992, no. 98, p. 122 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    M. Leiris, Lam, Milan, 1970, no. 52 (illustrated)
    M. P. Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, Barcelona/Paris, 1976, no. 378, p. 233 (illustrated)
    Lou Laurin-Lam, Wifredo Lam, Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume I, 1923-1960, Lausanne, 1996, no. 45.03, p. 368 (illustrated)
    Lowery Stokes Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982, Austin, 2002, p. 52 (illustrated)
    Tseng Chang-Shen, Wifredo Lam, Hebei, 2006, p. 88 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A paradigmatic Chinese Caribbean man, Wifredo Lam drew upon the wealth of his multiracial heritage—African, Cuban, Chinese—over the course of an extraordinary career that spanned five continents. The son of a Cantonese immigrant, Yam (Enrique) Lam, who decades earlier had made the journey from San Francisco through Mexico to Cuba, Wifredo grew up within Havana’s thriving barrio de asiáticos surrounded by Chinese family and culture. His uncle owned a restaurant—Lam knew the Chinese names of all the dishes—and his father introduced him to ancestor worship, a ritual and age-old means of cultivating loyalty and filial piety. A scribe and calligrapher for the community, Yam Lam adorned his bedroom with Confucian writings, acquainting his son with traditional ink painting and calligraphy at an early age. “Wherever he went, my father carried the memory of all sorts of landscapes: Siberia, Mongolia, Tartary, the drama of Asia and the China Sea,” Lam recalled. “In his eyes you could see the sunrise of an island in turmoil fighting for its freedom.” (Wifredo Lam, quoted in Max-Pol Fouchet, Wifredo Lam, New York, 1976, p. 32.) Not only did his father pass on his Chinese citizenship—Lam only became a Cuban national at the age of twenty-one, just before he left for Spain in late 1923—but he served as well as a conduit to the spiritual and artistic lineage of China.

    By the time of Lam’s return to Cuba in 1941, amid the outbreak of the Second World War, his work had evolved in dialogue with the European avant-garde, particularly with Surrealism and its affinities with ethnography and the occult. His encounter with Africa, vis-à-vis Pablo Picasso and the culture of Black Paris, anticipated his re-engagement in Havana with “la cosa negra” and the weight of the colonial past. “My return to Cuba meant, above all, a great stimulation of my imagination, as well as the exteriorisation of my world,” he recounted of his homecoming. “I responded always to the presence of factors which emanated from our history and our geography, tropical flowers, and black culture.” (Lam, quoted in Lowery Stokes Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923- 1982, Austin, 2002, p. 35.) At a time of surging interest in Afro-Cuban cosmology, led by anthropologists Lydia Cabrera and Fernando Ortiz, Lam began to constitute an iconography of Santería, the syncretic religion that he had studied as a child with his godmother and maternal aunt, Mantonica Wilson, a Lucumí priestess. His iconic paintings from this period, among them The Jungle (1943)—acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1945, making him the first Chinese artist to enter its collection—conjure a preternatural realm inhabited by hybrid figures in myriad stages of metamorphosis.

    “The world that Lam creates is an end in itself, an occult, mysterious universe governed not by the laws that regulate our cosmos, but by some undercurrent of magic…[that] makes itself felt in every canvas,” Margaret Breuning observed in her review of Lam’s exhibition in late 1945 at Pierre Matisse, the legendary New York gallery named after its founder, the younger son of Henri Matisse. “There are recognisable forms…but they appear not so much realities as the symbols of an inner mystic existence. Some of the paintings suggest Chinese art in their delicacy and refinement of handling, diaphanous forms rhythmically playing on each other in nuances of greys and whites in a design that seems to grow gently upward into [a] sweeping harmony of expression.” (Margaret Breuning, “Lam’s Magical Incantations and Rituals,” Art Digest 43, 1 December 1945, p. 16.) Among the sixteen paintings included in the exhibition, Sur les traces distills the incantatory power of Lam’s supernatural figures as they enter into a state of transformation. The spare, monochromatic palette intensifies the sense of foreboding: gradations of black paint fade into a numinous ground, illuminating spectral, sinister presences that hover between states of being. Their imprint alone remains, indicated by vestigial and esoteric traces—votive candle, tapering horns, diamond-shaped faces, three egg-like forms—that denote the passage between physical and metaphysical worlds.

    Sur les traces exemplifies the transculturation of Lam’s practice, commingling Afro-Cuban and Chinese elements with imaginative and far-ranging freedom. The exquisite, stippled surfaces of his black-and-white paintings from the mid-1940s, among them Rythme mimétique (1945) and Au défaut du jour (1945), recall the precision and nuanced tonality of ink wash painting, brought to expressive heights by Southern School painters in China. They further evoke the enigmatic script of Shang oracle bones, used in ancient China for divination, fortune telling, and astrology; like Zao Wou-Ki a decade later, Lam may have channelled these inscriptions as a means of accessing his Chinese heritage. He was fascinated by magic during these years, consulting a soothsayer upon his return to Havana and attending secret Ñáñigo (Afro-Cuban) rituals with Cabrera, the exiled Surrealist Pierre Mabille, and Alejo Carpentier, who later developed the concept of lo real maravilloso—magical realism—in his novel of the Haitian Revolution, El reino de este mundo (1949). During a months-long stay in Haiti in 1945-46, Lam observed voodoo ceremonies, formally outlawed as superstitious practice, with Mabille and André Breton; the spirit possession that he witnessed doubtless recalled Santería and, possibly, Chinese traditions of his childhood. Lam immersed himself in the study of religion and mysticism during this period, drawing liberally from African, Caribbean, and Asian sources as he explored the wonders of faith. His paintings, Sur les traces among them, penetrated the depths of consciousness and the nature of being in a world ravaged by war and in search of meaning.

    “Lam began to create his atmosphere by means of figures in which the human, the animal, the vegetal mix without specification, animating a world of primitive myths with something ecumenically Antillean, profoundly tied not only to the Cuban soil but also to the entire string of islands,” Carpentier wrote of his friend in 1944. “His painting, without local anecdotes, could not have been conceived by a European artist. All of the magical, the imponderable, the mysterious in our environment is revealed in his recent works with an impressive force... The figures metamorphose, are transfigured. . . . Reality and dream are confused. The poetic and the visual become one. There is an atmosphere of myths and colour, completely original. There is a world of its own.” (Alejo Carpentier, “Reflexiones acerca de la pintura de Wifredo Lam,” Gaceta del Caribe 5, July 1944, p. 27.)

    Phillips would like to thank Eskil Lam and Dorota Dolega-Ritter for their assistance and Abigail McEwen for the writing of this essay.

  • Catalogue Essay

    林飛龍身為一位典型的中裔加勒比海藝術家,借鑒了其多種族的豐富文化背景,包括非洲、古巴及中國,燦爛的藝術生涯橫越了五大洲。他的父親林顏是位廣東籍的華人移民,曾在數十載間從廣東經舊金山、墨西哥來到了古巴,林飛龍在哈瓦那繁華的亞洲社區,成長於充滿中國家庭及文化的環境之中。他的叔叔經營一家餐廳,因此他對於菜單上每道中國菜名如數家珍般熟稔,他的父親也將祭祖這一種培養忠誠和孝道的傳統儀式沿傳給他。林顏是社區裡的抄寫員及書法家,他的臥室裡掛滿了手書的儒家信條,林飛龍自小便從父親那裡習得了水墨及書法。「不管我的父親去到哪裡,他總是把風景收納入他的記憶裡,像是西伯利亞、蒙古、韃靼、亞洲的景觀和中國海」他曾如此回憶道,「在他的眼底,你可以看到一個正在動盪中為自由奮鬥之島嶼的日出。」(林飛龍,摘錄自麥克斯-波爾・富切所著,《林飛龍》,紐約, 1976年,第32頁)。林飛龍直到了21歲才成為古巴公民,而且不久後就於1923年遷徙到了西班牙,他的父親不僅只是將中國的國籍傳承了給他,而更是將中國的精神與藝術傳承給林飛龍的一個重要渠道。

    當藝術家在1941年再度踏上古巴這個島嶼時,正逢二次世界大戰,他的作品已開始與歐洲的前衛藝術進行對話,特別是超現實主義以及該流派所衷情的民族考察和神秘學。他與非洲的際遇,正如同帕勃羅・畢卡索與巴黎的黑人文化一樣,也促使他以「黑色物體」和過去殖民歷史的角度來重新檢視哈瓦那。「我重返古巴最重要的意義,是在於對我想像力及內心世界的外化一個重要的刺激」,當他憶起回到故鄉時這樣說道:「我總對那些我們的歷史及地理背後的存在因素有所反應,那些熱帶花卉,還有黑人文化」(林飛龍,摘錄自洛瑞・史多克斯・席姆斯所著《林飛龍及國際前衛派1923- 1982》2002年8月,第35頁)。在當時,由人類學家莉蒂亞・卡布列拉與弗南多・歐迪茲所帶動,古巴突然掀起一片對古巴黑人的宇宙觀十分感興趣的風潮。林飛龍的繪畫在這段期間,也開始出現了薩泰里亞教的形象。他從小即從同他教母;也是他阿姨的--女祭司曼東妮卡・威爾遜學習到這個融合了天主教及非洲信仰的宗教。在這個時期具代表性的作品,往往描繪著超自然的魔幻境地裡,住著經歷多重蛻變狀態的混生物種,其中1943年所作的《叢林》,為紐約現代美術館收藏,使他成為了首位進入該館館藏的華人藝術家。

    瑪格麗特・布魯寧對於1945年底他在皮耶・馬蒂斯畫廊展覽的評論中提及:「林飛龍所創造的世界本身就是一個終點,這一個神秘的、詭譎的宇宙,並不是由你我宇宙中的規律所能控制的,而是由一些神奇的暗流控制…在每一塊畫布中都能感受到它」。那家傳奇性的紐約畫廊,是以畫廊老闆為名,而他正是野獸派畫家亨利・馬蒂斯的幼子。她繼續評道:「他的畫裡有著可以辨識的形體…然而,它們的外型又不像神秘主義者所信奉之象徵符號。有幾幅畫中精緻細膩的處理,可看得出中國藝術的軌跡,以灰色和白色細微的差異,充滿節奏感地相互演繹著清透的形體,輕慢地攀升成為一種清晰的和諧表達。」(瑪格麗特・布魯寧,「林飛龍神奇的化身與祭典」,Art Digest 第43期,1945年12月1日,第16頁)。該展覽的16件作品中,《變化》將藝術家筆下超自然的物體在進入轉化的狀態時,賦予了得以幻化成肉身的力量。單薄又近乎單色的色調,強化了預示感:黑色顏料漸進地褪入一片神秘的境地,一個徘徊在生存狀態之間,發著光又判若幽魂的險惡存在。在殘留卻又深奧的痕跡裡,他們的印記仍然依稀可見:奉獻蠟燭、錐形犄角、鑽石形狀的面孔,及三個看似蛋的形體,這些皆象徵了實體與形而上兩個世界之間的過渡。


    「林飛龍一開始透過將人類、動物及植物混合再一起,創造了一個沒有物種分類的境界,造就出一個原始的神話世界,裡面緊扣著古巴的土壤,更牽繫著一整串的安地列斯群島」,卡本提爾在1944年如此描述著這位朋友。「他的繪畫,並不存在當地的軼事,這是歐洲藝術家所無法構思出來的。他最近的作品,以驚人的力量道破了我們身處環境中那些奇幻的、無法量化的、神秘的一切…這些形體蛻變,被幻化了…現實與夢想相混淆。詩意和視覺融為一體。充滿神話和色彩的氛圍,完全原創。那兒是個只屬於它自己的世界。」(阿勒荷・卡本提爾,「對林飛龍繪畫的思索」,Gaceta del Caribe 第5期,1944年7月,第27頁)。

    富藝斯特別鳴謝 Eskil Lam、 Dorota Dolega-Ritter 及 Abigail McEwen 協助指導此專文。

  • Artist Bio

    Wifredo Lam

    Cuban • 1902 - 1982

    Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba and was of mixed Chinese, European, Indian and African descent. He studied under Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor, curator for the Museo del Prado and teacher of Salvador Dalí.

    While studying in Spain, he met Pablo Picasso, who would become his mentor and friend as well as one of his great supporters, introducing him to the intelligentsia of the time. Lam significantly contributed to modernism during his prolific career as painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramist. His works explored Cubism and expanded the inventive parameters of Surrealism while negotiating figuration and abstraction with a unique blend of Afro-Cuban and Surrealist iconography. His iconic visual language incorporated syncretic and fantastical objects and combined human-animal figures fused with lush vegetation.

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Property from an Important American Collector

Sur les traces (also known as Transformation)

signed and dated 'Wifredo Lam 1945' lower right
oil on canvas
155 x 125 cm. (61 x 49 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1945.

HK$12,000,000 - 16,000,000 

sold for HK$7,996,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018