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  • Provenance

    Collection of Maria Martins, Rio de Janeiro (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection (by descent)
    Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 2 October 2016, lot 1018
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Inspired by the works of modern masters such as Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, Zao Wou-Ki arrived in Paris in 1948 to pursue a new artistic direction. During a short visit to Switzerland in the early 1950s, the artist encountered works by Paul Klee, and felt that his pictorial forms resonated with the kind of creative vocabulary he was looking to express. This eventually led the artist towards a phase of semi-abstraction, and what is now known as the ‘Klee period’ of his career.

    During his Klee period, Zao treated the canvas as a space for artistic meditation; figures, landscapes, architecture and still lifes were depicted with an infusion of spontaneity and ambiguous perspectives as he began to transition towards abstraction. Eager for a breakthrough, Zao wanted to “invent a language that will no longer be confined by the choice of the subject” (Zao Wou-Ki and Françoise Marquet, Autoportrait, Fayard, 1988, p.104). From 1953 to 1954, Zao’s artistic style underwent a tremendous transformation. He recalled in 1976: “During this period my paintings were no longer recognisable, still lifes and flowers no longer existed. I yearned to develop a type of imaginative and incomprehensible artistic vocabulary.” (Françoise Marquet, "Chronologie de Zao Wou-Ki", in A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, 1995. p.264) Zao began to renounce the representational in his works, instead returning to his cultural roots with the incorporation of ancient Chinese hieroglyphic scripts found on oracle bones into his works.These oracle bone inscriptions recorded divinations performed by the kings of the Shang Dynasty and documentation of the royal court by official historians. Known as the origins of Han Chinese writing, to this day these inscriptions have not been completely interpreted nor understood. Writing was a mark of human civilisation— transcending space and time through the handing down of history and culture to future generations (fig.2).

    During his ‘oracle bone’ period, Zao was inspired by the spirituality of these ancient inscriptions. Rather than simply depicting these inscriptions, Zao dissected, re-organised and created unique scripts and symbols of his own. By then, the artist had completely abandoned figurative painting, and now concentrated solely on abstraction. The imagery present in his works became increasingly liberated— his use of colour and light fluid and rhythmic. His work conveyed the sense of a brand new universe birthed in the artist’s mind– one that masterfully incorporated elements of Oriental culture with the aesthetics of Western abstraction.

    The present work, Ailleurs, was completed in 1955 – a moment when Zao’s style of painting underwent a crucial and decisive transformation. As a teaching assistant at his alma mater (the Fine Art School of Hangzhou) in the 1940s, Zao made the decision to move to Paris in pursuit of wider artistic possibilities that Chinese traditional art education could not satisfy. Upon his arrival in Paris, Zao spent much time visiting art museums to learn about the works of Western masters. Hoping to be accepted as a painter in Europe, Zao deliberately avoided traditional Chinese techniques and media such as ink and brush. After several years of artistic pursuit and self-discovery, Zao eventually returned to the Chinese traditions that he had originally shied away from, achieving artistic liberation and developing a unique personal style as he stepped away from the world of figuration and moved towards abstraction. Ailleurs tells of Zao as a stranger in a foreign land where he had found his artistic path; through this journey he had the opportunity to explore his identity and discover, examine, unite and sublimate the innovations, traditions, and cultures of the East and the West.

    In Ailleurs, enigmatic signs and glyphs resembling oracle bone script meld into a background of earthy hues. These texts float and drift against a field of dark paint on the upper part of the canvas. Within this space, touches of yellow, blue and pink intermingle with the inscriptions. The signs merge organically, with the rhythm of dark clouds and light created through layers of paint projecting life as they swirl within the space. Through different layers of paint, Zao builds depth to create an image reminiscent of a galaxy and its constellations. Upon closer look, the signs and glyphs dance and drift along the canvas. Condensed and richly textured, these elements draw viewers into a state of meditation, allowing their minds to drift along the currents of time, to traverse the origins of the universe and to discover the chapters of human civilisation woven into stories.

    Ailleurs was originally in the collection of the Brazilian Surrealist sculptor Maria Martins (1894-1973) (fig.4), who acquired the work during her visit to Zao’s studio in the late 1950s. Martins, along with her diplomat husband, travelled extensively and lived in many different countries. She participated in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris on multiple occasions and also helped to establish the São Paulo Art Bienniale. In 1955, Zao was invited to participate in the Biennale’s third edition where his works were exhibited in the French Pavilion. It was through this occasion that two artists from opposite ends of the world became friends. It was a shared sentiment of being a migrant in a foreign country; the drive both artists possessed in pursing their careers (one a Chinese artist working in Paris, the other a once-marginalised female artist) that prompted Zao to entrust Ailleurs to Martins. For the next sixty years, this work remained in the treasured collection of Martins and her family.

    Zao’s cultural roots were always inherent to his works, from the Shang Dynasty oracle bone inscription-inspired abstract works from the 1950s, to the development of his whirlwind style of brushstrokes that resembled the Tang Dynasty calligraphers Zhang Xu and Su Huai’s kuang cao (‘wild cursive’) in the 1960s, or even to his approach to large scale atmospheric paintings in the 1970s:

    "What must be said is that there are many things that I owe France, although I don’t make comparisons about where those things are bigger than what I owe China. Because I feel a deep connection with the ancient traditions of China. However, it is France that has made me clearly see that these traditions live inside me, that has liberated that feeling in my own creativity."- Zao Wou-Ki

    Ailleurs is a powerful imprint made by the artist’s creative journey; an outstanding example of Zao’s pivotal transition from Klee towards oracle bones that suggest the artist’s creative style and artistic practice was moving in an increasingly enlightened direction.

  • Catalogue Essay


    克利時期的圖像與畫面空間處理方式,趙無極找到了連結自身藝術冥想的接口,將人物、自然、建物及靜物以混沌、散點透視及符號化的處理方式,讓他探尋到抽象繪畫的因子(圖1)。很快的,趙無極渴求更進一步的突破,他想要「發明一種語言來打破因主題選擇而產生的束縛」(趙無極與梵思娃・馬凱,自畫像,法亞爾,1988年,第104頁),1953、54年,趙無極的藝術風格經歷重大的轉變,藝術家於1976年回憶道:「在這個時期,我的繪畫變得難以 辨識,靜物和花卉已經不存在。我希望朝著一種難以解讀的想像書寫文字發展。」(梵思娃・馬凱,趙無極年表,「趙無極回顧展」,高雄市立美術館,1995年,第264頁)。隨著時間的推移,畫面中具象元素在作品中漸漸退去,趙無極轉向自身傳統的根源,將中國古老文化中的文字書寫符號「甲古文」置入創作之中。



    趙無極的甲骨文時期,由古文字中得到神諭般的靈感,趙無極並非純然的描繪甲骨文,而是將期拆解、重組;並創造出獨特的符號,至此,他的藝術與具象分道揚鏕,全然進入抽象繪畫之路。畫面更加解放,顏色及光也越發運用自如。氣韻遊刃有餘的流淌於畫面之上,我們彷彿在趙無極的藝術中,看到了一個他創造出來的全新之宇宙觀,將東方文化傳統技法,他想要遠離傳統,想要被視為歐洲藝術家,而非來自於東方的畫家。創作的追尋之路,以及自我實踐數年之後,於畫作之中他反而拾起了一度放下的中國傳統,接受它並因此得到解放,將他的藝術推向抽象,走出有形的世界,自此創造出趙無極不斷進化的個人風格。《他方》-- 一個異鄉遊子,在他鄉找到了屬於自己的藝術之路,而正是這個旅程,讓這位遊子有機會發掘自我,在創新與傳統,東方與西方文化之間 -- 發現、審視、融合、昇華。

    仔細欣賞《他方》一作,背景的大地色彩之中,由上至下,充滿被趙無極拆解並重組、如同天書般,無法破解的甲古文符號,靈動而飛舞,上方以濃重的深色油彩塗抹,間或綴以幾筆赭紅,深色顏料於畫面中接續,下層白色顏料輕重之間,一抺黃、淡淡的藍色、粉色順勢點綴於中,與文字符號交相呼應,這些符號彷彿形成了有機體,在油彩明暗堆疊創造出來的雲霧及光之氣韻中,產生了生命 – 於空間之中遊移、作用。遠觀作品,讓我們不由得折服於趙無極於一方畫布之中創造不同層次,形成近似宇宙星體空間感的能力;趨近檢視,這些舞動跳躍、疏密有致的符號圖騰,吸引觀者進入冥想,將思緒拉入時光的洪流,穿梭太初,於渾沌渺邈之中,編織一幕幕人類文明的記事。


    綜觀趙無極的藝術,文化中的血脈,自然的在他的創作中蹦出火花,一脈相承,50年代由殷商甲骨文的靈感進入抽象,60年代發展如唐代顛張醉素的狂草,走筆如旋風,至70年代澎湃之山水氣韻。趙無極曾說道:「必需說明的是,我在法國身受其惠的收獲,與在中國受到的影響究竟孰大? 我與中國古代的傳統有深刻淵源,那無法衡量。這傳統活在我裡面,但開啟我的自覺,並以此作為創造而給予解放的都是法國。」(趙無極,フランスに,第38頁)


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Ο ✱13

Property from a Prestigious Asian Collection


signed and dated 'Wou-ki [in Chinese] ZAO 55' lower right; further signed, titled and dated 'ZAO WOU-KI "Ailleurs" 1955' on the reverse
oil on canvas
130 x 97 cm. (51 1/8 x 38 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1955, this work will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity to be issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki. This work will be referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).

HK$40,000,000 - 60,000,000 

sold for HK$52,040,000

Contact Specialist

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019