Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Zao Wou-ki: A Colourful Life (1920-2013)

Abstract artist Zao Wou-ki who merged Chinese and Western styles together
The great Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-ki has died at the age of 93 in Switzerland.

He was the highest-selling living painter earlier this week when his diptych 10.03.83 sold for HK$37 million ($4.77 million) at a Sotheby's auction.

Zao was was born in Beijing in 1920 into a cultivated family and learned how to appreciate art from his grandfather who had a passion for calligraphy. And so Zao learned calligraphy when he was a child and then painting at the School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou from 1935 to 1941.

Seven years later he and his wife Lan Lan, a composer, moved to Paris to escape the Communists and there Zao gained praise from the likes of Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. Zao was also influenced by Paul Klee and Alberto Giancometti.

Their young son Zhao Jialing, lived with his parents in China. By the mid 1950s, Zao and his wife divorced and in 1957 he traveled to New Jersey to visit his brother Chao Wu-wai. It was here Zao learned more about the Pop Art movement, though he didn't really understand the reason behind it.

Nevertheless, Zao had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1959. His works are described as abstract, large pieces full of vibrant colours that seem to create something new. He has said he was influenced by Henri Matisse, Picasso and Paul Cezanne.

Zao's works are often in large formats, in diptychs and triptychs, and he usually names the paintings on the date he finishes them.

His personal life had ups and downs. After he left the United States he went to Tokyo and then Hong Kong where he met his future second wife, the actress Zhu Ying who already had two children.

She herself became a sculptress who received critical praise, but then committed suicide at the height of her career.

In 1964 Zao became a French citizen and only returned to China once in 1972. There is no mention yet in the media when he married his third wife Francoise Marquet, but she and Zao's son were locked in a legal battle over guardianship of the artist.

Marquet, a former curator of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, moved Zao to Switzerland, claiming it was better for his health, but Zhao contends it was her way of controlling his father's assets a personal collection of works worth millions of euros.

It was last month that Zao's son won the legal victory, with the appointment of two legal guardians to carry out an inventory of the artist's possessions.

And then on Tuesday, against the wishes of Zhao, but with Marquet's consent -- to stop Zao's treatment and allow him to die. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and had been hospitalized twice in March.

His works seem intense and foreboding, dramatic and energetic.

He once said: "What is abstract for you is real for me."