Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery will proudly present Rue du Moulin Vert, a group exhibition of ZAO Wou-ki (1920-2013), Pierre SOULAGES (1919-), Nicolas DE STAËL (1914-1955), Sam FRANCIS (1923-1994), Georges MATHIEU (1921-2012) and Lalan (1921-1995), who are considered the key representatives of the post-1945 Abstraction art movement in Paris.
The exhibition will be a showcase of 13 pieces of important oil works of these artists, covering from the 50s to the 90s of the last century.
With encouragement from Vadime ELISSEEFF, the then Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy in China, ZAO Wou-ki decided in 1947 to go to France to continue his pursuit of art. Accompanied by his wife, Lalan, he landed in Marseille on 26 February, 1948. On 1 April, he arrived at Paris in the morning, and spent the whole afternoon in the Louvre. After staying in hotels in Montparnasse for a short while, he moved to a small studio at No. 51, Rue du Moulin Vert, and became a neighbor of Albert GIACOMETTI (who resided at No. 47 of the same street) for the next 17 years. From this unique corner of the charming city, his art journey took off, and there he met other artists who shared the same passion for art, including Pierre SOULAGES, Nicolas DE STAËL, Sam FRANCIS and Georges MATHIEU. ZAO and Lalan and their companions were in one way or the other influenced by the then Abstraction art movement Paris.
This Abstraction art movement was born in Paris after the war, when many artists old and young were back to or arriving at Paris: Nicolas de STAËL and Serge POLIAKOFF from Russia; Hans HARTUNG from Germany; Jean-Paul RIOPELLE from Canada; Maria Helena Vieira DA SILVA from Portugal; ZAO Wou-ki from China; Kumi SUGAI from Japan; Sam FRANCIS and John Franklin KOENIG from the U.S.A., who, together with the French: Georges MATHIEU and Pierre SOULAGES, created paintings in an abstractionist style.
This movement was opposed not only to "l' École de Paris" remains of pre-war style, but to Cubist and Surrealist movements that preceded it, and also to geometric abstraction ( "Cold Abstraction" ). In some ways, Parisian Abstraction was the first to apply the theories of Wassily KANDINSKY, who is recognized as the father of abstraction.
This movement was considered an attempt to restore the image of artistic Paris, which had held the rank of capital of the arts until the war. It also represented a competition between the School of Paris and the New York School of Abstract Expressionism represented since 1946 by Jackson POLLOCK, Willem DE KOONING and Mark ROTHKO, who were promoted by the American authorities from the early 1950s.
Compared with the American Abstract Expressionism, it is more common in the case of the School of Paris to find influences of or inspiration from Oriental ink painting (in particular Chinese landscape painting), calligraphy, lyrical expressions, poetic sensation, and the arts of music and dancing.
These characteristics are demonstrated clearly by the works selected for the present exhibition.
ZAO Wou-ki (1920-2013)
Zao Wou-ki was considered one of the most successful Chinese painters of the 20th century. Working with oil paint, Chinese ink, lithography, and watercolour, Zao traversed cultural boundaries and opened up an unprecedented dimension in synthesis of Chinese spirit and Western art.
Born in a wealthy family in Beijing in 1920, Zao Wou-Ki started his art training under Lin Fengmian at the National Academy of Arts in Hangzhou. In 1948, he went to Paris with his first wife Lalan. Since his first solo show at Galerie Creuze in Paris (1949), he had over 100 solo exhibitions throughout his career, and his works are collected by more than 150 important museums, such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Tate Musuem and Pompidou Center. He was the first artist of Chinese descent to become a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris (2002). In 2006, he was made a Grand Officer de l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur. In 2013, he passed away in Switzerland at the age of 93.
Inspired by Paul Klee's works, Zao Wou-ki's early creations incorporated Chinese oracle bones and bronze wares. In the 60s-70s, Zao Wou-ki's abstract paintings have matured, breaking through the original pictorial form. An example is the exhibit "29.05 - 31.10.68" where a few bright red shades emerge from the light brown tone and the fragmented dark brown strokes wander around the canvas. It is a painting of intensity yet never overwhelming and demonstrates how confident Zao Wou-ki is in manifesting his skills.
Pierre SOULAGES (1919-)
At 99 years old, Pierre Soulages is described as “France’s most successful living artist”, and particularly known as “the painter of black”.
Born in 1919 in Rodez, France, Soulages was fascinated with prehistoric art in his childhood, which had significant influence in his art. He settled in Paris with his wife in 1946. He participated in exhibitions of the Salon des Surindépendants and Salon de Mai, which his black paintings attracted the attention of art critics. In 1950s, he became famous in New York and he befriended the American abstract painter Mark Rothko. His works began to exhibit at world-class museums such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Paris Museum of Modern Art. Up to now, more than 150 works have been collected by museums. He has received many awards, notably Premium Imperial Prize for Painting, Japan Art Association in Tokyo (1992) and La Legion d’Honneur (2015). He had a major retrospective exhibition at Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2009. In 2014, the Soulages Museum in Rodez inaugurated, permanently presenting over 500 works.
Soulages has been creating paintings in black throughout his career. His works play with light movement on the black canvas. His early works show an influence of Chinese calligraphy, as demonstrated in the exhibit "Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949". Since 1979, he began his signature series of black composition “Outrenoir” (Beyond the Black). He sees light as a material which is reflected by the black surface of his paintings, allowing the black to come out of darkness and into brightness.
Nicolas DE STAËL (1914-1955)
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914, he fled to Poland with his family after the October Revolution and became orphaned at the age of eight. In 1932, he studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels. In 1944, his first solo exhibition was held in Paris. Influenced by the post-Impressionists, his early works began in representation of landscapes, and developed into his distinct abstract style of heavy impasto compositions. In the 1950s, he had won the attention of art critics. Despite the fact that his paintings were in high demand in New York and Paris, he ended his life in 1955. His art career spanned only 15 years but he had produced more than a thousand paintings. His works are in the collections of the Grand Palais in Paris, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, etc.
Sam FRANCIS (1923-1994)
Born in 1923 in California, USA, Sam Francis studied botany, psychology and medicine in University of California, Berkeley in 1941. In 1944, he was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis after a flight accident as a pilot for US Army Air Corps. From then on, he began painting and received a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts in 1950. It was in the same year when he moved to Paris and held his first exhibition ever; he was closely acquainted with abstract painters then.
Travelling around the world, he had lived in France and Japan for many years; he was deeply influenced by various arts and cultures, including Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting as well as Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. Fascinated by the changes of light and color, he integrated Oriental philosophy, Western psychology and his personal experiences into his creation. His early works were influenced by Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. His artistic style has undergone multiple transformations, from the overwhelming colours in the grids to the period of rigorous blue. Influenced by the Eastern thoughts later on, he spared substantial portions of his paintings for blank spaces and made use of dreamy colors as well as vivid splashes.
His works have been exhibited in more than 110 art museums and galleries and are collected by important museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Centre Georges Pompidou. Since his death in 1994, there have been more than 90 retrospective solo exhibitions.
Georges MATHIEU (1921-2012)
In 1921, George Mathieu was born in Boulogne in northern France. He studied in philosophy and literature. A self-taught painter, he began his artistic career in 1942. Settled in Paris in 1947, he challenged the geometric abstraction of the time, and organized the first group exhibition "Imagine" of non-figurative art at Galerie du Luxembourg. In the 1950s, he established his signature style of combining calligraphic lines and splashing of paint. Art theorist André Malraux once said, "Finally here comes a calligrapher of the West." He used the term “lyrical abstraction” as his artistic concept. His paintings express his inner passion with speed and improvisation. He had painted huge works in front of the audience as a performance. Historical events were often used as his paintings’ title; for example, one of the exhibits' title was adopted from the history of the coronation of Stephen of Blois as King of England in the 12th century. Mathieu had held over 170 solo exhibitions and his works are collected by more than 90 museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art.
Lalan (Xie Jinglan) was born in a scholarly family in Guizhao, China in 1921. Talented in music and dancing, she studied music in Hangzhou Academy in 1938. In 1948, she settled in Paris with her husband Zao Wou-ki and learnt modern dance and electronic music. In 1957, Lalan divorced Zao Wou-ki, and started a new life as an artist. She had never ceased painting till an accident took her life in 1995. Inspired by her music and dancing, Lalan’s abstract paintings are driven by an inner voice from within. From her early abstract paintings with vivid calligraphic lines and symbols, through the subtle and introspective landscapes inspired by the spirit of traditional Chinese paintings in the 1970s, she went further to the delicate and rhythmic abstract paintings in the late period, and created her unique “integrated art” (L’art Synthèse) which she performed her modern dance with her electronic music in front of her paintings.
In 1973, the French Ministry of Cultures awarded her with a special grant in recognition of her integrated art. She was awarded Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1975. In 1990, the Euro-Asian Cultural Exchange Association and the Espace Cardin in Paris jointly held a grand solo exhibition for her. Her works are collected by the Culture Ministry of France, Musee d’ Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Shanghai Art Museum, Macau Museum of Art, etc.