Beijing, 13 February 1920 – Paris, 9 April 2013
Zao Wou-Ki is a Chinese French Painter best known for large abstract canvases which combine dynamic layers of bold colour and strong calligraphic brushstrokes; he is considered one of the most successful Chinese painters alive.
Raised in a family that taught him calligraphy from a young age, Wou Ki then went on to study at the Fine Arts painting school in Hangzhou in 1935. Then after graduating and having a successful solo show, Wou Ki left for Paris in 1947 with his wife Lan-Lan. When living in Montparnasse in Paris he soon became immersed in the new gestural spontaneity of the flourishing abstract expressionist movement and through his earliest exhibitions managed to gain the praise of both Juan Miro and Pablo Picasso.
Later after traveling in Switzerland in 1951, he was greatly influenced by the work of Paul Klee and in 1954 he began a series of works that incorporated the inscriptions from Chinese archaic bronzes and oracle bones that came to define all his subsequent works.
Then in 1957, after divorcing his wife, Wou Ki visited the US where he took a distinct interest in the early beginnings of Pop Art and where he visited his brother in New Jersey, NewYork. After a six week stay he then travelled to Tokyo and Hong Kong where he met his second wife, actress Zhu Ying.
Having found his own distinct abstract style by the 1950s, he also developed his cypher-like signature which he remained faithful to for over fifty years. This involved him giving his first name in Chinese characters and his last in a Western orthography in turn acting as a reflection of his own cultural identity and style which fuses modern Western abstraction with a Chinese sensibility rooted in the past.