Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Art and Art History


Xin Conan-Wu

Committee Members

Michael Gibbs Hill

Charles Palermo

Sibel Zandi-Sayek


French Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki (1921-2013) was not only a key figure in Postwar abstraction but was also one of the first artists of the Chinese diaspora to gain recognition internationally. Emigrated from Shanghai to Paris in 1948, Zao soon established himself as one of the most prominent figures in the European art scene. Towards the late twentieth century, Zao became increasingly recognized in the United States and in Asia. Zao’s artistic career, however, is not a linear one and Zao’s works do not fit into a singular category–it was through decades of experimentation, collision, and reconciliation that Zao brought influences of European modernism, American Abstract Expressionism, and the Chinese ink together in his works.

This thesis follows Zao’s evolving relationship with the Chinese ink and Chinese shan shui–a connection overlooked and understudied, as most research on Zao is from a Eurocentric perspective. Reconciling with the Chinese ink in the 1970s and redefining the Chinese shan shui 1980 onwards were the two most crucial periods in Zao’s career. Investigating Zao’s works from these periods and drawing comparisons with works from various artistic movements, I seek to unpack the development of Zao’s unusual and complex artistic career, which spanned across different continents, cultures, and artistic traditions. This thesis reveals that Zao was able to absorb various influences and eventually built his unique visual language upon them: Zao Wou-Ki painted his infinite landscape that encompasses and transcends all artistic traditions.

On-Campus Access Only