Zao Wou-Ki, 4-4-85, 1985
Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) was a Chinese-French painter. Born in Beijing, he began studying calligraphy when he was a boy. From 1935-1941 he studied at the China Academy of Art. In 1948 he moved to Paris with his wife, Lan-lan, a composer, living in Montparnasse. Zao held his first French exhibitions shortly thereafter, which were met with praise from Joan Miró and Picasso. Zao's earliest works were figurative, resembling traditional art from various cultures. His style developed throughout the fifties, exploring different types of abstraction. He soon began using pure abstraction, abandoning figuration altogether, except for the subtle suggestion of natural forms. Zao often worked in diptychs or triptychs, and his work can resemble a howling tree or a billowing nebula. An extremely intense use of color became the visual focus of Zao's work. He also mostly abandoned titles, simply using the date of creation as the title of the work. 4-4-85 is one such piece. Here the colors splash and crash together, suggesting lava or colliding forces or cells. The colors are carefully chosen to create the right balance of shape and color, and the continually engage the viewer. The composition does the same job, leaving the balance of the painting in question, with the large mass on the right much heavier than the stream on the left. But the painting leads the eye to the center of that stream of color, so it is able to hold up next to the larger splash. Zao's work is visceral, the colorful abstraction creating and immediate response from the viewer. The luminous colors and sense of expansive motion make the paintings effective and powerful.