Contemporary Chinese sculptor Wu Ching Ju merges Chinese and Western culture to create powerful yet intrinsically delicate works. ‘She combines the rigidness and coldness of bronze with the gentleness and beauty of human nature in a perfect way’, comments Hua Liming. ‘The sculptures of Wu Ching Ju are another valuable exploration of the idea “to make the past serve the present and let western things serve China”.’ Hua Liming is a former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Wu Ching Ju
Chinese, b. 1961
Wu Ching Ju was born on 17 August, 1961, in the urban township of Fenglin in the Huatung Valley of Eastern Taiwan. She learnt about the ancient traditions of China from an early age, above all, to love and respect her ancestors and all living things. After secondary education, she became particularly interested in the art of flower arranging, with its emphasis on simplicity, elegance and harmony.
Wu moved with her family to Taipei, Taiwan, and studied design and oriental humanities. Soon after her marriage, she moved to the United States, where she began to express herself through painting and calligraphy. During those years, Wu began to explore the differences between Eastern and Western aesthetics and she was inspired to create a new kind of Chinese beauty, giving it a three-dimensional form by using the Western technique of bronze casting. ‘I use the simplest lines from Chinese paintings in my sculptures, allowing these lines to manifest in the bronzes,’ she explains.
In 1993, Wu moved to the Netherlands, where she studied Western techniques of painting, sculpting and bronze casting. Her first exhibitions in the West all sold out and in 1996 she became a full-time sculptor. Now, Wu’s work can be found in private homes and gardens on every continent. Very early on in her career in Europe, Wu was signed to Halcyon Gallery, London. She has held over 40 exhibitions in Europe and Asia. There are several significant collections of Wu’s work across the world, including those established in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. Eight works of hers are on permanent display in museums in China.
Her success in Europe and subsequent displacement from home is often reflected in both the form and subjects of her work. She felt impelled to take what she had learnt in Europe back to her own culture and to create a bridge of communication between East and West. For example, Fountain of Blessings, a public installation in Shanghai, merges oriental tradition with Western style and technique. The artist’s Mother and Child series of bronzes, as well as being a celebration of motherhood, also highlights what it is like to be an orphan, reflecting on both her own childhood and a career that has taken her far from home.
Her sculptures sensitively abstract Western figurative sculpture from its traditional form, while reaching new levels of expression. ‘Emotions play an important part in my work’, she says. ‘Serenity, modesty, sadness, tranquillity and joy feature prominently.’ While her subjects clearly reflect her passion for Chinese history, legend and religion, her process, she explains, closely engages with it too. She says, ‘I become entirely engrossed in my subject … I shut out the outside world which, in oriental philosophy, is extremely important. Only when you can completely concentrate are you at peace with yourself.’
In 2011, Wu created Pro Terra et Natura for significant public placement in the Lu Jia Zui Central Park in the financial district of Shanghai. The fifteen-metre-high installation was chosen from over 300 proposals for a monumental work of art to be placed in the green oasis at the base of three of the most imposing skyscrapers in China. Pro Terra et Natura features two winged mythical figures, representing Mother Earth and Nature, and raises awareness of the deteriorating state of the natural environment. The installation of the sculpture coincided with major exhibitions of the artist’s work in China in 2011 and is now recognised as an official landmark of the city. Drawing on the artist’s lifetime love of nature, Pro Terra et Natura captures serenity, hope and harmony to convey an important message through its impressive monumental form.
Since 2012, inspired by Zen philosophy, Wu has devoted herself to creating works that capture the pursuit of enlightenment and the search for the true self, freed from modern life’s distractions. Her perception of Zen is not necessarily religious, instead, the artist identifies with the concept on a deeply personal level. This philosophy is represented in her body of work called Beyond Zen, which featured in Halcyon Gallery’s 2017 summer exhibition, Water and Bronze. This latest body of work skilfully captures the intangible concept of the spiritual journey in the hard and unpredictable material of bronze.
In 2016 and 2017, Wu’s work featured in the China Art Museum, a museum of modern Chinese art located in Shanghai and one of the largest art museums in Asia. During the 2017 BRICS international relations summit in Xiamen China, the Chinese government brought together a number of outstanding works covering an 800 year period of Chinese art. The collection featured Wu’s one-and-a-half-metre bronze sculpture Endless, from the Beyond Zen series, marking a major milestone in her career.
Wu works mostly from her studio located in the mountains near where she grew up in the Huatung Valley. In this picturesque environment in the midst of nature, she continues to create powerful yet intrinsically delicate works, merging influences from both Chinese and Western cultures.