Zao Wou-Ki

Zao Wou-Ki was born in Beijing on February 13, 1921. Born into a family of distinguished scholars, he spent his childhood learning calligraphy. From 1935 to 1941, he studied Chinese and Western painting at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts, where he also taught from 1941 to 1947.

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At the age of 27, in 1948, Zao Wou-Ki left China to settle in Montparnasse, Paris, where he studied under Émile Othon Friesz at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière. While in Paris, he met a number of renowned artists, including Sam Francis, Riopelle, Soulages, Hartung, Giacometti and Vieira da Silva. In 1950, the poet Henri Michaux wrote a text on Zao Wou-Ki's early lithographs in a book entitled "Lecture de huit lithographies de Zao Wou-Ki". In 1964, Zao Wou-Ki was granted French nationality by André Malraux. In 1980, he became professor of mural painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. In 1984, he was made an Officer of the Légion d'Honneur by the French Minister of Culture. A member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts since 2002, he has also been a professor at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts in China, where he has been recognized and celebrated since 1983. In 2001, Zao Wou-Ki was awarded the Taylor Foundation Prize. His artistic style, once influenced by Paul Klee, evolves towards abstraction. His works, titled according to their date of creation, depict colored masses that seem to give birth to a world in creation, where light structures the canvas. Zao Wou-Ki often works on large formats, sometimes in the form of diptychs or triptychs, where shapes and colors explode with captivating energy. Zao Wou-Ki's artistic career is punctuated by a series of plastic and technical discoveries, testifying to his meticulous apprenticeship and methodical exploration of various means of expression, from oil painting to engraving and calligraphy techniques, not forgetting Chinese ink painting, even at a late stage. Zao Wou-Ki remains one of the leading figures of lyrical abstraction, fusing the technical influences of the Far East with the poetic ambition of Western lyrical abstraction. A remarkable selection of his works is currently on show at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, from April 14 to December 1, 2023.