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Certain artworks resonate across the world. You may not know the name of the artist but the image is embedded within popular culture. Think da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Munch’s The Scream, Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Klimt’s The Kiss. All European, all well known images.

Here we showcase images that should be better known than they are, and therefore should be proudly acknowledged to be by prominent, Asian artists.

1. The Great Wave off Kanagawa – Katsushik Hokusai

Once you see this image, you know it. However it is overshadowed by western work. Often referred to as simply The Wave, this ukiyo-e woodblock print by Japanese artist Hokusai is one of the best recognised works of Japanese art in the World. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats off the coast of the prefecture of Kanagawa. It depicts the area around Mount Fuji, and the mountain itself appears in the background. It’s solid presence within Asian Art is recognised by the fact that there are many copies of it worldwide, including in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and in Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, France.

Mount Fuji is considered sacred and a symbol of national identity, in addition to being considered a symbol of beauty. It takes pride of place within the image. Within the scene there are three fast boats that are used to transport live fish that are returning to the capital. The eight rowers per boat are seen clinging tightly to the oars, presumably in fear of the giant wave. Indeed the wave dominates the entire composition of the image with it extended and about to break. This moment is perfectly captured before it breaks, framing mount Fuji in the background.

One would think therefore that the artist’s name would be just as well known as the image itself. Born in 1760, he began painting aged six. Aged 16 he was apprenticed as an engraver and spent three years learning the trade. He was an apprentice to the artist Shunsho at age 18, one of the foremost ukiyo-e artists of the time. After his death in 1793 he continued studying by himself. He published his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji in the 1820s, which proved so popular he later added a further ten prints. He experienced trauma in his later life, as he began to be eclipsed by the work of Ando Hiroshige and his studio burned down in 1839 destroying most of his work. He died in 1849 aged 89.


2. Sanyu – Pot de Pivoines

This exquisite work is the epitome of Sanyu’s quest to bridge East and West, traditional and contemporary. Western still life flowers are morphed with the classical brush strokes of Chinese painting of the subject. Rapidity and minimalism of Chinese brush strokes are still apparent and the motif is reminiscent of the tradition of classical Chinese painting of flowers. Still present however is the influence of western still lives with their rigidity and absence of movement that is akin to photography with the subject being suspended in time. Pot de Pivoines is indeed a classic example of Sanyu’s works of the 1940s with its darker hues, black contours and minimalist brushstrokes. The near ethereal quality to the flowers causes this to be one of his most outstanding works. His choice of tones, composition, light and contrast, and simplistic brush strokes, resulted in minimalistic and harmonious piece successfully marrying the East and West.


3. Le Pho’s Le Moment Agréable (The Quiet Moment)

This work is unique for Le Pho for his use strong colours and is arguably one of his finest pieces of work. He is one of the greatest Vietnamese painters of the 20th Century. His female subjects were always depicted in a gentle, soft form and in subtle tones. Always anonymous, they were painted to represent the idealised stereotypes of beautiful Vietnamese females. The female maternal figure portrayed here embroiders a delicate floral motif onto a piece of fabric. The man sits next to her on a traditional Vietnamese bed and holds the baby protectively in his arms. Their faces converge towards the centre of the painting, creating cohesiveness and strength within the composition. With this classical triangular composition portraying the strong, harmonious relationship between this familial unit, it reflects a poignant moment never experienced by Le Pho who was orphaned young.

This image is well known and popular within the art industry, recently sold for double its estimated price at Christie’s in Hong Kong in November 2014 for HK$2,920,000. The beautiful harmony that this painting portrays is a positive reflection of Asian family life. In this respect Le Pho’s delicate painting should be an iconic portrayal of Asian culture. Le Pho presents this familial unit as a microcosm of universal harmony and love. It perfectly demonstrates how that for Le Pho, family love is the source of eternal happiness.


4. Zao Wou-Ki – 25.05.62

Combining traditional Chinese aesthetics and creative methods with western abstract expressionism, elements of calligraphy and ink techniques are apparent within this work. This exquisite work combines relaxed and fast-paced brush strokes with various colour expressions of thick, thin, dry and wet details. His black tonality and shadings of ink echoes a mysterious, eerie quality. He uses his brush to travel between the past and present, east and west. Zao’s artistic form meant he rarely made sketches for these large-scale abstract landscapes. Instead, he stood in front of the blank canvas for extensive periods of time to imagine the images being conjured before him. It turned into a course of spontaneity. Without this creative process, this masterpiece would not have been created. Two metres high, the background is boldly painted with sparse, vertical strokes, jagged ridges and twisted branches are in the mid-range, with more detailed brushstrokes at the forefront. Together, the various brown hues form a sense of visual coherence. The result is a portrayal of a landscape of immense grandeur. It may be considered an abstract work, but it transcends time and space and forms a dialogue with such classical masters as Guo Xi and Ni Zan. Through his work, the fundamental elements of the universe are captured; wind, rain, cloud, and air. With this being the case, it is a quintessential artwork of Zao – being a perfect amalgamation of western abstraction and traditional Chinese calligraphy