Sanyu, the 20thcentury Chinese modern art pioneer, was born in Sichuan, China in 1901. He started Chinese painting lessons with his father at the age of thirteen and also studied with the renowned Sichuan calligrapher Zhao Xi. Inspired by the wave of students traveling to France under the government-sponsored work-study program, Sanyu departed for Paris to study art but did not enroll into the official academy, instead, he preferred the less academic environment of the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, where he explored with little constraint Western sketching techniques, freely experimenting with the nude form. He attempted to use different materials such as pencil, charcoal, Chinese brushes, oil paint to illustrate the contours of human body, and tried to assimilate the Chinese water ink techniques, such as line drawing, dry painting, ink spreading, and blank brushing for a transformative and an abstract endeavor. From 1925 onwards, Sanyu regularly showed his artwork in Parisian Salons and local galleries. In 1929, Sanyu’s ethereal and Oriental paintings were recognized by crucial art collector, Pierre-Henri Hoche.
Sanyu reached Paris in the early stage and under the influence of European romanticism, his canvases were mostly constituted by white, pink, yellow and the light ink patches. His canvas was elegant, the form was simple and he had exercised the calligraphic lines to deliver a joyous emotion. Due to the similar brightness in the ink patches, and the lines that contoured or assimilated the differences in objects, the canvases projected a harmonious and a seemingly unnamable feel. Regardless if the drawn object was people, flowers, or animals, they were all immersed in this light pink dreaminess which compelled the viewer to fall into the pure whiteness of the Chinese ink paper. Inspired by lacquerwares in the later stage, Sanyu incorporated great amount of folk art in his works and sketched the simple lines in the dark background. In the 50s and 60s, Sanyu was even fonder of darkness. He outlined flowers, leopards, nudes on the pitchy dark base, just like he contoured with lines on the light base canvas; the dark-iron lines must be firm and precise, no longer dreamy. The color tones of the oil paint were rich, from the pure whiteness to the pitch darkness, his works were equipped with every subtle intonation. On the pure base canvas, he used lines to occupy space and within the infinite extension of the lines, he nakedly revealed his stubbornness. Like his good friend, Robert Frank had remarked, “Sanyu knows how to use the most simplified method to outline the essence and the humor of the matter.” In Sanyu’s works, he had softened the style of Chinese literary paintings and Western modernism, endowing on the traditional Chinese art, a soul of his own.
(Reference from Speaking on Sanyu, Wu Guanzhong)