Zao Wou-Ki is renowned for his paintings that unite both East and West. Zao left Shanghai for Paris in 1948, trading traditional Chinese ink for more a Western style of approach. Influenced by historic names such as Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso, as well as by his peers Giacometti, Miró and Michaux, Zao’s visual language became an amalgamation of cultures and art forms, breaking new ground in France and China while continuing to discover his own aesthetic.
The annual special exhibition at STPI charts his development as an artist from the 1950s to 2000s through the chronological placement of his work and conspicuous use of text. While the seemingly random strokes of abstract painters are occasionally difficult to digest, for those either new or familiar to the artist, the text is a clear and informative read. Quotes from Zao and his peers highlight a man that was well respected in his time and a painter who truly contemplated his work, rediscovering the East through methods of the West.
In keeping with the print institute’s medium of choice, save for an exceptional few, the works on display are on paper. The variety of possibilities with paper is unimaginable until they are placed side-by-side. Lithographs, aquatint etching, watercolor and ink – with each medium, Zao adds another dimension to his oeuvre. The viewer feels honored to be taken along for the exploration into the depths of his practice, with his vulnerability on display through years of artwork. As he states, ‘My paintings become an indicator of my emotional life, because in them I revealed my feelings and state of mind with no inhibition whatsoever.’
Each period has a discernible quality, yet it never strays far from Zao’s characteristic style. Works from later in his life, in the early 21st century, are noticeably calmer, perhaps even mellow. Pieces such as 25.03.2004 may have bright colors, but his brushstrokes seem more considered. The exhibition allows the viewer space to take in each work and consider it, as Zao did. One can stand back and admire his art as a journey; tracing the ebb and flow of his emotions throughout his life by way of his brushstrokes, use of color and medium.
STPI’s annual special Exhibition brings influential, renowned artists to Singapore. This allows audiences to learn and experience more of such work, which may admittedly be lacking somewhat in the local scene. Alongside the exhibition, the gallery and workshop also runs a series of public programmes, including exhibition tours and artist talks that are definitely worth the visit. More than a regular commercial gallery, STPI demonstrates its dedication to public education and furthering of the arts in Singapore, making it a truly exceptional institution.