Zhou Chunya (B. 1955)
Black Stone and Horse
signed in Chinese; dated '1991' (lower right)
oil on canvas
146.5 x 118 cm. (57 5/8 x 46 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1991
Art Now Publishing, Hundred Middle-aged and Young Artists in China, 1992 (illustrated, p. 73).
Timezone 8 Ltd., Zhou Chunya, Shanghai, China, 2010 (illustrated, p. 173).
Shanghai Museum, Zhou Chunya Retrospective 1971-2010, Shanghai, China, 2010 (illustrated, p. 173).
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Museum, Zhou Chunya Retrospective 1971-2010, 13 June-23 June 2010.

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Lot Essay

As the Chinese art world felt the impact of western modernist thinking in the 1980s, many artists adopted them as a blueprint for formal and conceptual innovation. Zhou Chunya, a graduate of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, was indeed influenced by the Impressionists and Peredvizhniki, or the Wanderers, but he also loved to experience nature and life; his experiences of sketching directly from nature during his early years on the grasslands and in the Tibetan regions bring a sense of vitality to his work. Like other painters from the Southwestern School, Zhang Xiaogang and Mao Xuhui, emotional expression constitutes the main thread of Zhou's practice, making him a part of the "Life Flow" school. In 1986 he spent time studying in West Germany and was influenced by the Neo-Expressionists, which greatly deepened his understanding of contemporary art. Returning to China in 1989, he began studying aesthetics for traditional Chinese paintings in search for inspiration, which he fused together with the medium of western painting to form his own individualistic style.
Black Stone, Black Horse (Lot 46) was completed in 1991, when Zhou Chunya had just begun using human figures and stones as the subjects of his paintings. The details of facial features are intentionally obscure in order to conceal individuality. The rough and rugged skin texture makes them appear not so different from rocks or stones. Stones hold great importance in Chinese tradition, thus the collection and appreciation of them were a cultivated trend of the literati since ancient times, and, even more importantly, the fundamental composition of landscape painting has typically been defined by rock features, and a large number of painters throughout history have taken stones as their subject matter (Fig. 1). The brushwork of the literati painter emphasizes the freehand portrayal of artistic conception, pursuing personality rather than the perfection of techniques, placing this type of painting in a mutually defining relationship with the appreciation of stones, which is committed to natural beauty. In adopting stone as his subject matter, Zhou Chunya takes it as a vessel for the expressiveness of color and brushwork, constructing real visual beauty. Moreover, he has learned from the tradition of collecting and painting stones, a mode of observing the world that is completely different from western culture, thus escaping classical western perspective and realist depiction and tending instead towards aesthetics of the "strange" and "grotesque" favored by stone collectors. For this reason, his stone paintings appear to be transfiguring back and forth between stone and human form, the real image exists only in the mind of the painter and the viewer, manifesting the spiritual realm of eastern painting tradition.

Black Stone, Black Horse is a good example of Zhou Chunya's rich and versatile artistic expressions. Its title clearly states that the work depicts a stone and a horse, but the stone in fact looks like a group of ever-changing black clouds. Upon closer inspection one discovers the front half of a horse, a definite form that floats vaguely forward out of the black mass. The snout of the horse comes up against the left edge of the stone; along with the upper and lower halves of the stone, it seems to form a human figure in profile, producing an interesting illusion akin to Surrealist painter Salvador Dal?'s hallucinatory world (Fig. 2). The harmonious merging of animal and nature, on the other hand, recalls the work of German Expressionist pioneer Franz Marc; where the latter painter tends to emphasize the symbolic meaning of color and the structure of the image, however, Zhou Chunya uses only black in Black Stone, Black Horse, inheriting the austere taste of literati ink painting. Although he does not intentionally use calligraphic brushstrokes, Zhou nevertheless manifests the delicate aesthetic requirement of "ink divides into five colors," meaning ink has five different textual levels of blackness, therefores conceptually continuing the eastern philosophical tradition that sees the person, the horse, and the stone all as a part of nature, a realm described by Zhuangzi as, "All things and I are one."
Han Gan of the Tang dynasty, Zhao Mengfu of the Yuan dynasty, and Xu Beihong of the modern era were all master painters of the horse. Zhou Chunya's choice of painting the horse is intimately tied to his experiences of traveling through the grasslands. As he once inscribed on a drawing, "People on the grasslands listen to the horses" (Fig. 4). That is to say, even in the modern world, the horse remains master on the grasslands. The horse is a very practical animal, performing many tasks in war, transportation and competition, the horse always exhibits a powerful life force. Due to the close relationships between man and horse, descriptions of the latter is often filled with human qualities, such as loyalty, bravery, and perseverence. In Night Shining White, Han Gan depicts a white steed looking to heaven with athletic legs in motion, like a young man determined to take on the world. By contrast, the horse in Zhou Chunya's Black Stone, Black Horse, is calm and mature, like a grown man with rich life experiences contemplating the meaning of life. In choosing the horse as a metaphor for human, Zhou Chunya added another layer of poetic meaning to his painting techniques, greatly enhancing the sreadability of the piece.

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