PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Zhou Chunya's Stone Series - The Tree Connected to Stone dates from a period not long after he returned home from his studies in Germany. Its brand-new vocabulary, its blend of Neo-Expressionism with the spirit and the impressionistic style of Eastern literati painters, immediately won him a place in the world of Chinese painting. The Stone series shows how his unusual style of melding Eastern tradition with Western modernism was maturing as he reached his first creative peak, symbolizing the ultimate formation of his own visual style and artistic outlook.
During the 1980s, following the end of the Cultural Revolution, China's closed-door stance toward Western art began to soften and all kinds of artists began to study and imitate the New Wave. In far-away Germany, however, Zhou Chunya was gaining insight into the deeper meaning of Chinese painting as he reflected on it from a Western viewpoint. German Neo-Expressionist artists at the time such as Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer expressed primitive emotions on canvas through imaginative and highly distorted compositions alongside wild, intense brushwork. Zhou found the visual results quite startling. Faced with such personalized expressions, he began to realize, as he retraced the development of his own culture, that China already had a long-standing tradition of this same kind in the paintings of its literati class. Back at home in 1989, Zhou returned to Sichuan and focused on such great literati painters as Bada Shanren, attempting to replicate in Western media the same combination of fine detail and free, lyrical expression. Even further, as he sought to establish his own artistic identity, he injected a sense of colour and technique that he borrowed from Neo-Expressionism. Speaking of this period, Zhou noted, “As I painted my Stone series I was also studying the landscapes of our literati painters. But rather than trying to understand the properties of the ink medium or the unique compositional forms of Chinese painting, I worked with my own creative goals in mind, to try to find those elements that seemed most strange or surprising to me. I made great efforts, almost compulsively, trying to capture the visual elements hidden within the natural properties of the stones. Amplifying and enhancing these elements, that was my form, and since the content of a painting is its visual presentation, there was no need to introduce any further interpretation or extension of these elements. This approach produced even more surprising and startling results than any stones that we would see or we could understand if we had instead taken some concept or method as our starting point.”
Trees and stones are traditional subjects in Chinese painting, as well as a kind of emotional symbol for the painter, one which originally stood for tranquil elegance and quiet introspection. In Stone Series - The Tree Connected to Stone , however, Zhou deliberately departs from this orthodoxy, letting viewers experience a radically different kind of visual presentation and mood. It is true that Zhou inherited the basic appeal of ink painting from the line of such great masters as Bada Shanren, Shi Tao, and Huang Binhong, and his subjective choice of scenic elements and their shaping are subtly linked back to their work. Yet his way of creating textures in thick, heavy oils, borrowed from the Neo-expressionists, takes the place of traditional ink-wash textures as he presents his rocks and trees with dignified poise and solid brushstrokes. His helter-skelter composition also departs from the flatness of the literati painters and evokes strong tensions. The black shape of the tree and the saturated blue tones of the background form strong contrasts, giving his subjects an unexpected presence as the twisted branches and the provocative colours enhance each other. The unique, strange effect that pervades the canvas recalls the distorted, melancholy style of Expressionist artist Chaïm Soutine. Zhou Chunya succeeded at melding his rebellious personality with his painting, noting that “I liked the shapes of the stones depicted by our classical literati artists, but was dissatisfied with their overly mild and introverted character. So I came up with a riskier, more flamboyant approach: I borrowed these elegant, classical forms but gave them a kind of violent, almost pornographic overtone.... So in this familiar, orthodox visual experience I found something that accords with my own innate tendencies, yet something directly opposed to tradition and custom. In my impudence I demonstrated the limitations of the mild, introverted, and static character of the literati paintings. That made me tremendously happy, and once I got started I couldn't stop! I'm grateful to the Neo-expressionists just as I am grateful to the literati painters. They were the ones who provided a reason for me to come out with my own artistic personality.”
Zhou Chunya's Stone Series - The Tree Connected to Stone was exhibited in the 1993 exhibition, Experiences in Fine Arts of China . That exhibition was hugely important to Chinese art in the early '90s, as it was the context in which a number of artists from the southwest, including Zhang Xiaogang and Mao Xuhui, first became known to a wider audience, setting the stage for the thriving contemporary art scene of China in the 1990s and after. This Stone and Tree is an important Zhou Chunya work, part of the series which came to symbolize both Zhou's rebelliousness and his continuing adherence to tradition; it displays the unique style in which his self-expression flowered while bursting through the limits of that tradition.
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Stone Series - The Tree Connected to Stone
in Chinese and dated '1993' (lower right); titled and signed in Chinese, inscribed and dated '195 x 130 cm 120F 1993' (on the reverse)
ZHOU CHUNYA (CHINA, B. 1955)
Chengdu, China, Sichuan Museum of Art, Chinese Fine Arts in 1990’s: Experiences in Fine Arts of China, December 1993.
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Art Museum, 1971-2010 Forty Years Review of Zhou Chunya, June 2010.
Wang Ling (ed.), Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chinese Fine Arts in 1990’s: Experiences in Fine Arts of China, exh. cat., Chengdu, China, 1993 (illustrated, p. 91).
Lu Peng (ed.), Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, Zhou Chunya, Chengdu, China, 2007 (illustrated, p. 42).
Zhou Chunya, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, Blooming Stories, Chengdu, China, 2007 (illustrated, p. 45).
Hong Lei (ed.), Timezone 8 Limited, Zhou Chunya, Hong Kong, 2010 (illustrated, pp. 192-193).
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 9 October 2006, Lot 1730
Private Collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 April 2014, Lot 150
Acquired from the above by the present owner