As the third son of the Chu family, Teh-Chun was born on 24 October 1920 in Baitou Zhen, in the province of Jiangsu. This agricultural region of China made up of plains, watercourses and canals and which is also called the ‘water country’ will mark him deeply and give the artist Chu Teh-Chun a luminous palette. He comes from a prosperous family of medical doctors, who are collectors of traditional Chinese painting.
In 1935, he enters the National School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou where he meets his contemporary Zao Wou-Ki. At the time not just traditional painting was taught; painters who had lived in France had brought back art reviews and reproductions of Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne which fascinate Chu Teh-Chun. With impressionism, he discovers another technique and another vision of art.
The declaration of the Sino-Japanese war on 7 July 1937 leads to a relocation of the school inside the country. During this exodus which lasts two years, Chu Teh-Chun discovers the depth of the Chinese countryside and remembers extraordinary landscapes.
At the end of his studies in 1941, he is immediately appointed as an assistant professor. He teaches in the architecture department of the central University of Nankin from 1944 to 1949. He then becomes a professor in Taipei and then in Taiwan, while continuing his exhibitions.
His status ensures he has a comfortable existence, but he nonetheless dreams of leaving to divest himself of academic conventions. So he therefore leaves China in 1955, at the age of 35 with his wife Ching-Chao. During the long journey which brings him to Europe, he makes a stopover in Cairo where he discovers Pharaonic art, which is his first real contact with western art. He arrives in France, a mythical country discovered during his studies through its painters and he sets up home in Paris.
Modern art then enters Chu Teh-Chun’s life. He leaves a frozen world for a world in movement. 1955 is the year of Nicolas de Staël’s death, Mark Tobey proposes his exhibition ‘the Movement’ at Jeanne Bucher’s premises, the Denise-René gallery presents the kinetic art of Agam, Pol Bury, Calder, Duchamp and Vasarely. Chu Teh-Chun discovers that the painters’ media and materials are different from those which he knows. One year after his death, the City of Paris National Museum of Modern Art held a Nicolas de Staël retrospective. This event has a lasting impact on Chu Teh-Chun who is moved by the embedded, architectural shapes in ranges of restrained colours. He draws inspiration from them in his own paintings and replaces the traditional urban views which he painted at his arrival in Paris by a free proliferation of lively colours with material effects. Nature, its landscapes and its climatic phenomena are always his main sources of inspiration. Chu Teh-Chun’s painting ‘is a place of colours and shapes, born from nature’ writes the art critic and friend of the artist Pierre Cabanne. He represents locations that are both imaginary and real, inspired by his own experience. The link to China, with its culture, can be found in his paintings. The heritage of calligraphy can be felt in the swathes of silence which punctuate the multidimensional space made up of lively and spontaneous gestures in his paintings.
He begins to exhibit his work in galleries from the years 1958-60. Thus he holds his first exhibition in the Legendre gallery and is noticed by critics. Maurice Panier, the artistic director of the Legendre gallery, offers him an exclusive contract for six years, which enables Chu Teh-Chun to invest in a workshop. He meets other artists from the gallery, some of whom such as Kijno or the sculptor Féraud will become his friends. And he becomes part of Parisian artistic life.
Abstraction then becomes a necessity for the Chinese artist. For him, it is a language which becomes incessantly renewed and which allows him to communicate more easily, with greater spontaneity and freedom of movement. His paintings are rich and it is difficult to retrace the path of the artist’s hand, to find a start and an end to it.
In 1983, he is invited by the department of Fine Arts of the University of Hong Kong to be on the final year examining board. The Chinese Union of Artists offers him an opportunity to rediscover his own country which he had not visited for 28 years. He then happily re-explores the China of his childhood. Invited for a second time in 1986, he shows a retrospective of his work at the Taipei national History Museum in 1987. He has been out of his country for thirty-two years and this is the first time that he is showing all of his work.
During the 1990s, he sets up home in Vitry-sur-Seine in Val de Marne and has a vast well lighted workshop. He now favours large formats, diptychs and triptychs, which he exhibits throughout Europe, the United States and the Far East. Major monographs are published and he is awarded several public commissions.
The years after 2000 are the symbol of recognition of Chu Teh-Chun’s work. In 2001, he becomes a Chevalier of the Order of Academic Palms and is then appointed as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic. He accompanies Jacques Chirac to Beijing in the context of the year of France in China. The latter describes him, like Zao Wou-Ki, as ‘symbols (…) of the meeting between cultured Chinese tradition and contemporary French painting’ and awards him the title of Officer of the National Order of Merit in 2006. In the same year, Chu Teh-Chun receives the European Gold Medal of Merit in Luxembourg.
The final proof of the establishment of his work is his first personal exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in New York in May-June 2006.
Information courtesy of Jeane Bastien, Brussels, Belgium
Biography from the Archives of AskART.