Between Abstract and Virtual – from Zao Wou-ki to Xu Lei: Fine Art Asia

3 - 5 October 2014

Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013) is the most pre-eminent Chinese artist of modern times, renowned for his boundless creativity in the realm of abstract painting. During his career Zao gradually abandoned direct representation in favour of pure abstract expression, developing a unique style of abstract art with its roots in Chinese culture and art. His works evoke a peaceful atmosphere and a sense of harmony through the refined use of brushwork and colour.

Born in Beijing, Zao Wou-ki studied under the master Lin Fengmian at the Hangzhou National College of Art. After graduating in 1941, Zao remained at the College to teach painting. Zao left for Paris in 1947, where he befriended many well-known art Western dealers and artists who had a lasting effect on his style and artistic career. His work was regularly exhibited at Kootz Gallery in New York and the Galerie de France in Paris throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Zao remained in Paris and became the most successful contemporary Chinese painter. His works are highly sought after by international collectors and museums worldwide.


Xu Lei (b. 1963) is an innovative artist who uses traditional ink, brush and rice paper. He derives inspiration from the spirit and structure of Song Dynasty paintings and Ming Dynasty opera woodcuts, yet opens a new path for Chinese painting by incorporating modern concepts from René Magritte, Yves Klein and Marcel Duchamp. In past works, he has put delicately drawn horses, chairs of the Ming period, butterflies or birds in stage-like virtual spaces between curtains or folding screens. Through a subtle interplay of motifs, the relationship between "emptiness" and "phenomenal form" - the essence of traditional Chinese life philosophy - is elaborated in a truly modern language.


In his latest "Qi and Bone" series, the ocean surface divides the world into two parts: under water are delicate realistic drawings of massive rocks, while above water are landscapes in a freehand style. Xu thus demonstrates yet another witty application of his signature arrangement of the virtual relationship between real images, creating a unique visual impact and provoking profound reflection on a centuries-old Chinese aesthetic.