Untitled - Hills and Mountains at Bonhams Hong Kong

This Untitled painting of hills and mountains, a landscape at the crossroad of the Eastern and Western traditions, offers us an insight into T'ang Haywen's creative process during the second half of the 1960s.

At that time and through the play of ink, T'ang had already moved from the pure representation of objects or landscapes to compositions where formal appearance became less and less important. However, he had not yet transformed the space of his painting from the single format to the diptych format which would characterize his work.

In a vertical space, reminiscent of classical Chinese painting, T'ang uses the atmospheric perspective to describe a succession of blue and green hills crossed by white valleys rising towards the crest of two dark blue mountains. The image, idea and feeling of a landscape is shaped by the flow of volumes, fulls and voids, from bottom to top and diagonally to the vanishing point of the veiled sun appearing in the distance between the two mountains.

The pictorial artifice of a blood-red frame - a flaming sky or even a stage curtain - adds to the depth of the composition and acts as a window overlooking the landscape. A watercolour from the same period uses this theatrical mean, which perhaps prefigures the space of the diptych, the largest window that T'ang will soon open on the landscape.

This bird eye view of hills and mountains does not obey Western principles of perspective. It can be read from bottom to top and suggests the distance and relief of the landscape, but the spots, thick lines, sweepings and splashes in oil and colour seem more in line with Western abstraction, even though T'ang would probably have denied it. Indeed, in 1972 he wrote: "I think that total abstraction is a dead end justified only by theory, expressed only by the disembodied verb... it is from a certain material figuration that painting can develop, renew itself without being lost and be deployed in the fields of affectivity and spirituality".

The message is clear and ambitious: reality will always be present as an absolute referent of painting and it is the painter's feelings and spirituality that will make, irrigate and characterize his painting. It will therefore be up to us, the spectators, to join him in his jubilations.

This oil painting will be a part of the upcoming Modern and Contemporary Art sale on 25th November 2019 of Bonhams Hong Kong. Details for exhibition and sale, please visit the official website of Bonhams.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of T'ang Haywen now in preparation by T'ang Haywen Archives and Mr. Philippe Koutouzis under the number OOC64/70-3.

Untitled (Hills and Mountains), c.1965-70, oil on canvas, signed lower right, 75.8x61cm