(Chinese, B. 1955)
Rock series
signed in Chinese; dated '1993' (lower right)
oil on canvas
45.7 x 82.8 cm. (18 x 32 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1993
Private Collection, Asia

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

As one of the leading artists in Chinese abstract painting, Zhou Chunya belongs to the first post-Mao generation of painters, such as Zhang Xiaogang and Xia Xiaowan, who based their work on personal dialogues between their Chinese heritage and the influence from encounters with Western art movements. During his graduate studies at the Kassel Academy in Germany in the late 1980s, Zhou began incorporating Fauvist and Neo-Expressionistic elements in his work to free himself from the limitations of China's academic realism. Since then, Zhou's oeuvre comprises a combination of Chinese motifs and concepts with highly personal expressionism using the experiences and reflections in his daily life as inspiration.

Zhou's artistic diversity and continuing evolvement is revealed in his Rock and Landscape series which he developed in 1992 after the return to his hometown in Chengdu, China from his studies abroad in Germany. Finding a newfound conviction towards his country, Zhou delved into a systematic research on Chinese literati painting, fascinated particularly by the exquisite refinement and sensitivity in the paintings of Bada Shanren and Dong Qichang. With heightened individual realms full of color, texture and abstraction, Rock Series (Lot 297) and Landscape Series (Lot 296) are fine examples that come from the artist's earlier period of works, which mark the emblematic shift in Zhou's artistic development as he walked out of the shadow of art movements in the West, and developed a keen desire to express his individuality with a more "introverted" and "refined" style of the Yuan masters.

Painted in 1993, Rock Series (Lot 297) is an abstract painting with a unique composition of lively movement and compelling emotion. At the first glance, the painting mesmerizes the viewer with buoyant, white, velutinous brushstrokes within saturated monotonous colours of blue and red. The enriched texture of the amorphous rock emerges from a dusty brown atmosphere and upon closer examination, unveils Zhou's thoughtful elaboration in creating his own expressionistic style of abstract human figures resembling mountainous rocks or humans transforming into rocks. A similar sense of monumentality and transcendence is translated into Landscape Series (lot 296). Painted with powerful brushstrokes rubbed into a softer brushwork, the mountains depict the likeness of a Chinese landscape. With an intended shapelessness, the mountains are abstracted into intricate dimensions in the foreground, while the background retains qualities of a vast and infinite space of rich, red, emphasizing the multifaceted surfaces of the sculptural forms of a mountainous landscape.

Zhou has commented on the role of the stone in Chinese art as he stated, "I have often wondered why stones are in so many traditional Chinese paintings. Perhaps the stone is a symbol of nature, their staunch solidity and texture having made them the emblem of the artistic spirit and technical method." The Chinese interest in "Scholar Rocks" for meditative or aesthetic purposes has been traced to the Han dynasty where it has since been an important object to Chinese material culture and aesthetic connoisseurship. An exquisite rock stimulates "shenyou" ("imagined travel") which suggests a landscape for the viewer to enter and explore for meditation of religious or philosophic principles served for contemplation prior to writing poems or painting. Zhou's ability to successfully transform a rock into a fully realized landscape in Rock Series and Landscape Series allows viewers to enter into a spiritual landscape that transcends the limitations of the physical world, finding an inner harmony within the underlying order of the cosmos.

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