(B. 1955)
Green Dog No. 12
signed in Chinese; signed 'Zhou Chunya' in Pinyin; dated and titled '2004 No. 12' (lower right)
oil on canvas
149 x 119 cm. (58 5/8 x 46 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2004

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

Painted in 1995, the Red Rock Series (Lot 1343) is the fruit of a quest to contemplate Chinese traditional art from the Germanic neo-expressionist perspective. At a time when his contemporaries immersed themselves in social and political remarks, Zhou Chunya revolved around colors, structure, texture and modeling, trying to exhaust his exploration on the elements of painting and its representation. The result has been a kind of depth profound and characteristic of his creations. The time saw Zhou's meticulous study on the traditional literati landscapes and rock miniascapes: "I was working on the literati landscapes when I created the Rock Series. I didn't, however, perceive them in the way like the Chinese traditional painters. That is, I afford no attempt to scrutinize their material properties and patterns and shapes but to search, according to my own purpose of expression, for those features that all together estrange and amaze me. I have spent much time on texture and the sense of texture, as I tried, almost like an obsessive, to capture and ponder over the deep-root factors that affect our visual perception of the rocks. Their augmentation and magnification are in essence the form; their visualization is in essence the content - I don't have to explain it further. These rocks are more astounding and startling than those that are viewed and interpreted through concepts and methods." For Zhou the expression of aura and disposition is innate to Chinese traditional art, albeit it dresses in an introvert and placid style. In its essence, however, the stress on individuality is in tune with Western expressionism. The Red Rock Series is thus a novel genre of visuality in which the two artistic traditions are integrated through the artist's unique use of colors and brushwork. While a Germanic neo-expressionists perspective enhances the atmospheric and individualistic features of Chinese traditional art, the deliberate application of the thick, vibrant pigments of red, which produces a visual texture disparate to the traditional ink-wash lightness and fragility, emphasizes the texture of the rocks and, in subtlety, the expressiveness of colors. The intricate structure of the work estranges the conventional flatness of literati paintings; a heaping, interspersing brushstroke brings to the oils an intense sense of texture, at once sculptural and compact, which evokes a fierce, exciting sentimental experience rarely found in Chinese traditional art. With the bizarre shapes of the rocks and their colors and composition, a flavor of flamboyance, liberty, and even violence pervades the work, arousing a labyrinthine and suppressed impression - one that is too complicated to see through.@This work is a re-representation of Chinese traditional rocks; fused with Western expressionism, it substantiates a uniquely Zhou's style of visuality and brushwork.

The art of Zhou Chunya undergoes an impressive turn when the artist began his Green Dog Series from 1995 to 1997. He portrayed his German wolfhound in a monochromic green, a technique that draws on the surreal, stimulating and yet peaceful connotation of the color to produce a striking visual impact. With this attempt the expressionist style of Zhou reaches another peak. From the Green Dog No. 12 (Lot 1344) and Green Dog Series (Lot 1501) we can observe a transformation of his artistic focus: from the colors and texture to the figurative structure and the sense of volume. Zhou, when commenting on this series, explained his idea of creation: "It is especially true for the Green Dog that I enhance the charm of the sculptural language. I take them not as graphical images but sculptures on the canvas." The shape of the green dog is materialized with textual strokes and the rubbing and twisting of brushwork, which is so remarkably dense that it seems to have produced a spinning motion to the colors and, as the artist said, a "pulsating figurative rhythm". Just as it engenders a sculptural sense of volume to the work, it entices us to look into every minute transformation of the greens, transfiguring colors and brushstroke into the alluring elements of expression that highlights the artist's sentiment and traits. In the Green Dog Series the artist ingeniously employs the technique of blank spacing; an obliterated background singles out the expressiveness of colors and the sculptural volume of the work, and the green dog, affixed within pure white, seems a solitary and indomitable existence. An existentialistic, symbolic essence suffuses the green dog of Zhou Chunya, putting on display the condition of individual existence and the real nature of life. The Green Dog Series has stirred Zhou's mind for a long time. Since mid-1990 he has made the green dog the subject of his portrait and it still lingers up to the present. Apparently no references are available amid Zhou's creative process; dogs, being an uncommon theme for both Chinese and Western art, allow a distinctly personal expression for the artist, who persists with the tinting of innovative elements and unique brushwork which accentuate his expressionist style. After 2000, with the death of Hei Gen, his Green Dog becomes more liberal and abstract in its shape and demeanor in the absence of a corporeal model. The figure of the green dog discharges immense power, manifesting an even more intense visual impact to the audience - "more confident," as some critics comment, and conveys a kind of "violent language and an anti-aesthetics implication". His brushstroke, getting more succinct, turns into a semi-abstracted expression of the grand aura, reminiscent of the calligraphic, liberal strokes of the literati painting. It is such adeptness in enthralling audience with the play of strokes rather than narratives that sets Zhou Chunya apart from most of his contemporaries.
Peach Blossom & Green Dog (Lot 1345), produced in 2008, is identified with the Peach Blossom Landscape series which marks yet another direction of Zhou's creative activity and allow considerable room for interpretation. Peach Blossom & Green Dog, nevertheless, gives off a still more impactful visuality and distinct aesthetics than the Peach Blossom Landscape. As can be observed the work is crammed with so many visual elements like the contrasting colors of the peach blossom and the vivid greens. Scattering across and pervading all through the canvas, they strike and usher each other. The over-distorted shapes of the peach blossom, tinted with the imperious lurid red, tell not only of gaiety and prosperity but also a sense of wildness and flirtatious enchantment largely discord with the graceful image of traditional Chinese peaches. The power of the exuberant nature, love and sex so revealed is best described by the artist as "a reckless release of instinct and personality amid a flowing sentiment of the colors", which opens up a new cultural perspective and scope of imagination. The composition, too, produces an influential visual effect; the distant scenery is brought to the foreground, so that the curiously sizable peach blossoms and the green dog, rather out of proportion, subjugate the canvas, insinuating a barbaric vigor of sex. The interspersing black branches and green bushes, the blooming florets and the spongy hairs of the green dog are all depicted in thick, forceful lines, washing the canvas with unbounded lineal motion and a profusely liberal brushstroke. As the artist once mentioned, he cannot let go of the image of a tank when he paints the peach blossoms. He intends to toss in the solid and violent contour of a tank to his work and directs his peach blossoms away from the gaudy prettiness commonly attached to them. While his branches and leaves are postured as a fierce, unyielding entity charged with contradiction and conflict, they are never scratchy, always reposing themselves on the elegant washy colors. This is just the aesthetics of the artist - a tender, and yet violent experience. It is an ingenious move for Zhou to feed the peach blossoms, the green dog and the red man in one single work; at the heart of the delightful, captivating forest of peaches is a green dog, grinning and jolly, instead of the refined mountain and rock conventional to the traditional discourse. The red man at the back, evocative of lure, echoes with the forceful colors and brushwork, giving the work a subtle erotic touch that drives the audience to intuit the rigorous and primitive rhythm of life. With Peach Blossom & Green Dog we are prepared to reflect, in discrete, on Zhou Chunya's series of Red Man, Green Dog and Peach Blossom and to look afresh at the quotidian implications and symbolic meanings of these elements. This in entirety affords the work a unique significance and depth atypical to the Peach Blossom series.

Zhou Chunya's exploration of modeling and brushwork are also carried over to his scriptures. In the Brotherhood (Lot 1346) the gaunt physique of the green dogs produces a peculiar visual image. It seems to be conveying a solitary ambience redolent of the melancholic lives of the three brothers - Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei - in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an age-old Chinese story. Perhaps because Zhou painted the subjects of the Brotherhood in the season when peaches blossomed, he passed on certain creative elements of the Peach Blossom series to his work, in which they communicate and coalesce. Zhou has once recalled that he was thinking about sculpturing on canvas when he painted the green dog oils. The bumpy outline of the sculpture is an exact t?te-b?che of the brushstroke of oils; the carving of sculpture can be viewed as the brushing of oil, calling to mind the bodily movement of the artist in the process of creating, and so underlining the unique personality of the creator and the condition in which he creates. Rather at variance with the Brotherhood, Green Dog (Lot 1370) displays a smooth sense of texture with a playful, humorous, curious image of the dog. The hand-painted brilliant peaches on its body tell of goodness and a gleeful mood, which indicates the artist's state of mind in 2009. The peculiar modeling and texture of the sculpture exudes, in a tangible manner, an abstract sublimity.

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