Chu Teh - Chun
Painted in 1960
Oil on canvas
by Enya Li
"I wish to create a new style of abstract painting through Western use of hues and Eastern calligraphic abstract lines: it will then express the indescribable abstract state of mind as conveyed in Chinese classical poems."
— Chu Teh-Chun
典礼主席M. J. Cardot院士在致词时点出：「朱德群院士一生的绘画创作丰富了欧洲文化的内容」，这无疑是对朱德群为20世纪西方绘画的发展与贡献做出至高的肯定。而这丰富西土的根叶，正是中国传统笔墨的东方美学涵养，让朱德群从中国走向世界，又在世界纬度的开阔视野中回归中国，将中国历代相传的翰墨技法与意象诗韵，写意传神地转书至西方油画媒材之上，发展出兼具冷抽象的冷静、热抽象的感性，及中国抽象写意性的革新艺术语汇，成为20世纪中西方艺术发展中，「借古开今」的重要丰碑。
30年代于杭州国立艺专求学时，吴大羽是朱德群最尊崇的老师，给予了他绘画技巧、理论和思想上深远的影响，他铭记恩师的教诲：「绘画即是画家对自然的感受，亦是宇宙间一剎那的真实」。50年代初期，在台湾八仙山写生时，面对如同唐宋时期山水画中的景致，使朱德群顿悟：中国传统绘画中讲求的虚实变幻、意境神韵较传统西方写实、透视造型更能展现艺术家面对自然时「天人合一」的心灵感受，此后，他的画风变得质朴自然，带有浓郁的抒情韵味。1956年，正踌躇于自我艺术发展去向的朱德群，在巴黎观看俄裔艺术家尼古拉·德·斯塔尔（Nicolas de Staël）的回顾展后，深刻体会那自由宣泄的抽象绘画「远在其他派别之上」，从而逐步摆脱现实的复制，向抽象表现主义靠拢，让其终于寻得纪录「剎那真实」的钥匙，收获恩师吴大羽所谓的「绘画」。巴黎的抽象浪潮为他提供了一个视点，让他跳出「庐山」而观其全貌，找到了东西艺术交融贯通的方式，成为此后贯彻他一生创作的支柱与灵魂。
与斯塔尔用画刀涂抹的强硬尖锐、粗黑厚重的斜构性线条不同，朱德群擅长通过画笔挥洒，配合中国书法轻重缓急的运笔技巧，使构图富有流动美感。以线条表现闻名的西方抽象艺术家哈同（H. Hartung）认为，抽象线条是无意识行为自动技法下的几何图形，因此他在创作过程中强调艺术家绘画过程中的手势运动及存在性，透过线条本体筑构一个超现实意象空间。但无论是哈同、巴赞（J. Bazaine）、苏拉吉（P. Soulages），还是克莱因（Y. Klein），谁都不曾像朱德群那样，使线条、乃至团块，有如此多变的姿态和表情，都不曾以朱德群的方式使用手中的画笔。
元 王蒙《春天读书图》纸本设色 132.4×55.5cm
In February of 1999, a historically significant inauguration took place within the great arch hall of Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Chu Teh-Chun, now nearly 80 years old, was honoured with membership of Académie des Beaux-Arts, becoming the first Chinese member as well as the first Eastern artist the academy has seen in 200 years.
M.J. Cardot, the master of ceremonies and a member of the academy, addressed in his speech: "Member Chu Teh-Chun's life of art has enriched every aspect of European culture." This is undoubtedly a great acknowledgement of Chu Teh-Chun's contribution to the development of 20th-Century Western painting. What enriches Western world is precisely the Eastern aesthetics of Chinese traditional ink art, which allowed Chu Teh-Chun to embrace the world but return to his Chinese roots, translating the brush and ink techniques along with its poetic elegance that have been passed on for centuries in China onto Western oil medium in a lyrical way. Together, the two flourish into a form of composition that is unique to Cold Abstraction yet retains the sensibilities of Lyrical Abstraction. As the form combined with the revolutionary artistic vocabulary of Chinese abstraction, Chu becomes a significant benchmark who has "emulated the past to enrich the present" in the development of 20th-Century Chinese and Western art.
苏拉吉《Painting》 1953年作 油彩画布 195 × 130 cm. (版权所有)
Matured Self: Eastern Abstraction at Its First Apex
When Chu studied at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou in the 1930's, Wu Dayu, Chu's most respected teacher, instilled in him the most profound influence regarding painting techniques, theories and concepts. He recalled his teachings vividly: "paintings transcribe an artist's feelings toward nature as well as that fleeting moment of reality in the universe." When Chu Teh-Chun was painting in the Basian Mountains in Taiwan in the early 1950's, he had an epiphany upon recalling the landscape paintings (shanshui) of the Tang and Song dynasties. Emphasising the tangible and the intangible as well as the spiritual reading traditional Chinese painting offers a better representation of the artist's spiritual state of "being at one with Nature" than the Realist expressions and perspective of its Western counterpart. When Chu Teh-Chun felt ambivalent about the direction of his creative path in 1956, he saw in Paris the retrospective exhibition of Nicolas de Staël, a Russian artist, and profound realisation dawned on him: untamed and free abstract painting truly "surpassed all other movements". This moment enabled him to gradually distance himself from replicating what is real and to find solace in Abstract Expressionism, thus discovering a portal to document that "fleeting reality". Chu Teh-Chun attained the kind of "painting" that his mentor Wu Dayu spoke of in Paris, and uncovered the method through which art from the East and West mingled. These discoveries became the constant support and essence of his life-long creative career.
1960 proved to be a pivotal year in Chu Teh-Chun's creative path as he welcomed the first peak of his career. Since his beginning in abstract creations in 1956, he had been invited to exhibit works at prominent exhibitions multiple times, dazzling the Parisian art scene. In 1960, he was nominated to exhibit at the then famed "Ecole de Paris Exhibition" that strongly advocated abstract painting; he held a solo exhibition at Galerie Legendre, a gallery with a primary focus in abstract art as well. His work won over the critics of the French literary and art circle, and was praised by various art critics and endorsed by dedicated articles in various periodicals.
Composition No. 57, the cover artwork of the auction, was completed in 1960, a magnificent work of great maturity created at the first apex of Chu Teh-Chun's creative life as he shifted toward abstraction. The work vividly translates the artist's interpretation of the expressive forms of Western abstract art while launching an innovative and unique artistic sign amongst his Western peers. His work has earned the most compelling response concerning "integration of the East and West", the proposition pursued by both Eastern and Western artists. This is a landmark work that harmonises elements of Eastern and Western abstract paintings.
Spiritual Lines: A Spiritual Resonance of Calligraphy and Abstract Art
Chu Teh-Chun studied calligraphy under his father rigorously as a young child. Nurtured in traditional Chinese calligraphy and art, Chu accumulated a solid foundation in cursive calligraphy. Chu Teh-Chun drew inspirations from the notion of "calligraphy into painting" from traditional Chinese painting, fully optimising the emphasis on lines in Chinese calligraphy in a Western abstract expression. In Composition No.57, Chu Teh-Chun boldly exercised his paintbrushes using black ochre paint. Decisive and daring, he released strokes of thick and thin black lines onto the canvas. The rhythmic pulse in Chinese calligraphy outlines the contour of mountain peaks, echoing the intricate transitions as the centred brush swirled and danced, boasting a powerful spirituality of Eastern calligraphy. The artist transcribes the robustness of calligraphy as free-flowing lines, leaping gracefully across the canvas in extraordinary form, weaving intricately webbed visual layers in the compositional space.
While Staël used palette knives to create jarring, sharp, bold and heavy diagonal lines, Chu was adept in coupling paintbrushes with the crescendos of Chinese calligraphy at varying speeds to enrich the composition with fluid elegance. H. Hartung, a Western abstract artist renowned for his expressions of line, believes that abstract lines are geometric shapes born out of unconscious automatic techniques. He thus stresses the importance of gestures and their presence in the artist's creative process, constructing a space of surreal imagery through lines. Nonetheless, whether it be Hartung, Bazaine, Soulages or Klein, no one has ever encapsulated as many expressions as Chu Teh-Chun has in terms of lines or blocks. Their works do not contain Chu Teh-Chun's brush techniques such as dot (dian), turn (zhe), falling stroke (pie), right falling stroke (na) and other forms from Chinese calligraphy – they all stop at mere gestures.
Chu Teh-Chun cleverly transforms the spirit of "oneness of calligraphy and painting" in China into Modern artistic language – to think before laying down a stroke and to paint with your soul – the calligraphic lines embody the spiritual realm existing within Eastern philosophies and the notion of Zen. If Soulages' layers of black lines entail a solemn discussion on the weight of life, Chu Teh-Chun constructs a spiritual landscape unrestrained by worldly matters in the work Composition No.57, presenting a spiritual scenery that invites your soul to roam freely.
Majestic Solemnness: Rarely-Seen Symmetrical Composition
Regarding the work's structure, Composition No.57 employs a symmetrical composition; the light source in the centre is the axis that halves the image, counteracting the rhythmic and dynamic lines to create a visual balance. The work's symmetricity offers the image a sense of tradition and solemnness, allowing the image to sculpt out the sublimity of China's incredible landscape with a striking presence; the rigid form of symmetrical composition is often the result of the artist's calculated arrangement, implying the artist's personal investment in the work. In Chu Teh-Chun's Composition Series spanning 20 years, there are no more than three iconic symmetrical works with the other two being Composition No.31 of 1959 and Composition No.53 of 1960; this is indeed the most extraordinary composition in all of Chu's creative career, its preciousness and uniqueness are apparent.
Earthly Hues: Fluid and Lyrical Colours
From a macroscopic view of the work's symmetricity, Chu Teh-Chun achieves an equilibrium of "motion within tranquility, tranquility within motion" on a microscopic level through colour contrasts interwoven by lines and spotted Colour blocks. The vividly tangerine blocks are positioned visibly in the centre of the image, guiding the viewer's gaze to fall upon the source of the white energy while dark red ochre, dark green colour blocks scatter across the image; under the dual contrasts of red and green, light and dark, a spatial relation with perspective surfaces gradually. The hues of Chu Teh-Chun's colour blocks are delicate and rich, carrying a uniquely light and translucent aesthetics; the mixing and overlapping of colours look similar to the colouring (ran) technique in traditional Chinese painting, emitting an elegant poise and charm. The hues' variations in light and dark forms achieve rhythms of motion and light before transitioning into a relaxed and graceful visual experience.