Chu Teh-Chun is an artist who seems to have travelled in time with his paintings. From his native China and Paris where he moved in 1955 to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Egypt, he absorbed foreign facets of his travels and include them in his works. For that reason, he seems to have never radically altered his original style. The exhibition entitled Nature lives with me at Waddington Custot reflects this timelessness. The paintings are seemingly displayed by texture and similitude but as my eye wanders from one wall to the other, I am, more than anything else, struck by the creation dates and the maturity of these landscapes.
The content marries calligraphy, oil and ink in a realm of waves, evanescing brushstrokes and non-pictorial shapes. Deeply inspired by French artist Nicolas De-Stael’s painting style, Teh-Chun introduced abstraction to his instinctive works on paper. Therefore, thicker blocks of paint, arranged and contrasted with pastel colours and darker tones appear in most of the paintings of the exhibition spanning from 1970 to 2008.
Light predominates the subtle game of layers in the oil paintings on the pistachio background of the second room. The artist brings to life a salmon, brick, vermilion, amber and paprika palette like flames in a burning fire.
The rectangular canvases facing the opposite smaller frames seem to tell a story. Completed more recently, in the early 1990s, they meld traditional craftsmanship and modern vision. Letters disappear and transform into hybrid undulating shapes, at times flat and discreet, at other times dynamic, filled with unspoken feelings. Some of the brushstrokes are reminiscent of spray paint, leading me to think of the works as avant-garde street art compositions.
Each piece is astounding and disorienting. The last room presents the last works of Teh-Chun. Created in 2008, he was 88 years old, a number dear in Chinese culture. I sense a ‘return’ to the source, a compelling desire to reconnect with the past. Poems are calligraphed with Chinese ink and Kraft paper.
After a prolific international career praised with awards, Teh-Chun delicately reminds the world of the purpose of his artistic vision. An artist with Chinese origins does not necessarily have to renounce his heritage and adopt Western’s rites to survive; impregnating the canvas with inspirations coming from different horizons can be as moving and persuasive.
Nature lives with me: Chu Teh-Chun at Waddington Custot (19 September – 4 November 2017)