Chu Teh-Chun: A New Film Sheds Light on the Life of the Chinese Master Artist

“I came to Paris in the spring of 1955 to find the answer to a profound aspiration. I had to discover my own way, through my knowledge and practice of Western painting,” said late Chinese master artist Chu Teh-Chun about his long career between France and China.

Chu, widely considered one of the most significant modern and contemporary Chinese artists, started his career at the prestigious Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in the 1930s and eventually moved to Paris in 1955. Throughout the 20th century, his abstract paintings were exhibited all over the world, charming critics and art lovers with his ingenious blend of Chinese and French cultural elements and symbols.

Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun, Untitled, 1981

In 2020, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Franco-Chinese artist’s birth, Fondation Chu Teh-Chun collaborated with director Christophe Fonseca on a documentary film that traces Chu’s personal and artistic journey from a turmoil-ridden China at the beginning of 20th century to his rise and recognition in France.

We recently caught up with Yvon Chu, the artist’s son and director of Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, to talk about the film and preserving the legacy of his father.

Can you tell us more about the new documentary to commemorate the centenary of your father’s birth?

The idea for the documentary first originated from a meeting with the director. We realised that Christophe Fonseca’s approach could improve the understanding of my father’s work. His centenary was a great opportunity to celebrate him and to highlight the work of the foundation. Mr Fonseca spent a lot of time understanding how the artist worked and his works. After he wrote the premise, we went to different places and to shoot the movie.

Will the movie focus on his artistic phases as well as his personal life?

The majority of this film shows the close link between the life and work of the artist to highlight his sources of inspiration and his dual culture. Christophe chose to immerse the viewer in the universe of the artist through an immersive approach – so to speak – and bring together family interviews and archive footage.

We took the opportunity to accompany the film crew to China, to follow my father’s footsteps, so we went to Hong Kong, where I had never been before, we visited Hangzhou university and we took a boat around the yellow mountains to shoot the landscape that inspired many traditional Chinese painters as well as the area where my father went on a school trip.

CHU Teh-Chun accumulated an impressive collection of works throughout his long artistic career. What are some of your personal favourites?

I’ve always lived with artists around me, since I was little, so I cannot remember the first work that I saw, but I really appreciate the influence this had on my way of looking at things around me. What I really like about his paintings is that they are powerful invitations to fully contemplate nature and take some time for introspection. After creating the foundation and working on the archive I understood even more how deep were my father’s influences and connections to both Chinese and French culture.

Chu Teh-Chun
Yvon Chu

Can you tell us about some of the works he was most proud of?

My father was very demanding. He was always looking to make something better, and to go further with his work with the constant desire to represent the dualism we talked about [the blend of French and Chinese cultures] in his paintings. I know he was proud that the public appreciated and was interested in his work, but he wasn’t particularly proud of one work.

Why did you create the Fondation CHU Teh-Chun?

We established it in 2017, in Geneva, to promote the work and preserve the legacy of my father as well as organise exhibitions all over the world, forge partnerships with museums, universities and art collectors and support young and upcoming artists. The foundation also takes care of authentication and certification of Chu’s body of work, which is under the responsibility of my mother.

What do you think is the best way to preserve your father’s legacy and celebrate his works for the next generations?

It’s very important for us to engage the younger generations. So our vision is to look to the future to reach a large audience and show that my father’s work is timeless and universal. We also need to lead by example and promote a more sustainable future for everyone.

Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun working in his studio

CHU Teh-Chun was an internationally acclaimed artist. What can you tell us about him as a person and father?

Before being an artist, he was my father. He was a very close and attentive father, he used to take me to school when I was little and I used to do my homework in his studio. We were always spending holidays together, even when I had my own family. Family was the core of everything in his life.

Art played a big role in our life as well. Our house was full of artists, paint and the walls were decorated with other people’s works. When I went to other people’s houses as a kid, I often felt that something was missing, because I was used to all of this being normal. Listening to my father working in the studio, even the brush moving on a canvas, was a very interesting experience that I still remember.

The film on the life and work of Chu Teh-Chun as part of the Film Sectors of Art Basel Hong Kong


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