CALLIGRAPHIC ABSTRACT, 1957-1969
During the mid-20th century, Lalan’s gestural application of thick, black calligraphic brushstrokes conveyed a bold, dancer-like quality on her large canvases and caught the attention of the French art world in 1960 when the Creuze Gallery in Paris held her first solo exhibition.
In her abstract works, Lalan introduced symbols and forms inspired by Chinese oracle bone scripts, ancient bronzes and stone tablets, which resembled the early abstract paintings of her first husband, Zao Wou-Ki. Yet, Lalan followed her artistic intuition and unbound imagination when she created. Throughout her career, Lalan never made drafts of her work and felt a sense of emotional and artistic freedom of expression following her creative inner voice.
INNER LANDSCAPES, 1969-1983
After 1969, Lalan sought to achieve a new artistic language. To breakaway, Lalan studied traditional Chinese painting particularly of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, as well as Taoist classic readings. She was greatly enlightened by the philosophy of Chuang Tzu on the aesthetics of stillness and emptiness and of the spirit and beauty of the nature. Lalan also traveled extensively to famous mountains in Europe to experience the connection and resemblance between humans and nature.
During this period, Lalan began creating watercolour on scroll and her works changed from emotional abstract paintings to peaceful landscapes particularly depicting the sun, the moon, mist, peaks and rock formations. In 1971, the French Ministry of Culture purchased Lalan’s three-paneled oeuvre Sudden Blue into their permanent museum collection, which marked the beginning of Lalan’s landscape series. Distinctly characteristic of this series are Lalan’s soft tones of white, light yellow, gray and light blue, as well as rhythmic lines that evoke a calm and peaceful energy, and reflect her consciousness and introspection on life.
Beginning in 1971, Lalan incorporated performance art into her solo exhibitions at the Galerie Jacques Desbrières, the Galerie Iris Clert, and the Centre Culturel Pablo Neruda of the Corbeil-Essonnes. She performed her own choreographed modern dance accompanied by her original electronic compositions in front of her paintings. The interdisciplinary integration of her creations marked the formation of her unique “integrated art” (L’Art Synthèse). In 1973, the French Ministry of Culture awarded her with a special grant in recognition of her work in integrated art.
RETURN TO ABSTRACT, 1984-1995
In the 1980s, Lalan returned to China several times and spent a lot of time exploring museums and nature. During this period, Lalan found inspiration rooted deeply in Chinese culture and her works returned to the abstract. Compared to her bold style in her early artistic years, Lalan’s colour palette became lighter, her compositions more complex and her technique more mature; all of which reflected her artistic intuition at the time.
Lalan’s Untitled (1990s, oil on canvas) is full of rhythm and musical energy. As illustrated in this work, Lalan first spread a layer of light blue and then allowed her hand to move freely along the canvas. Her application of black dots can compare to quick and continuous steps in dance, and her delicate white lines bounce like the frequency of electronic music.
In 1990, the Euro-Asian Cultural Exchange Association and the Espace Cardin in Paris jointly held a grand solo exhibition for her. The exhibit included A Salute to Edgard Varèse (1985). Painted in gold-yellow and brown, the composition gradually changes from the indefinite at left to the complex strokes at right. In memory of her teacher, Lalan was sincere in her intention to convery life as dancing music on her canvas.
From her early abstract paintings with vivid calligraphic lines and symbols, to the subtle and introspective landscapes inspired by the spirit of traditional Chinese paintings of the Song and Yuan Dynasties in the 1970s, Lalan further developed the delicate and rhythmic abstract paintings intertwined with dancing movements in her late artistic career. Ignoring any trends, she only created what she believed. At the time, this was especially bold and avant-garde for a Chinese woman. To quote dramatist Eugène Ionesco,
“It is very rare to witness the existence of an original voice and path, it is very rare to be innovative in non-figurative painting, to find the forceful, discreet yet evident originality that Lalan possesses. There can be nothing new, one is tempted to think, in one domain or another: then all of a sudden here is something new, here is the unexpected, here is a painter, here is Lalan.”