Zao Wou-Ki (13 February 1920 – 9 April 2013) was a Chinese-French painter. He was a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Zao was born in Beijing, with family roots in Dantu, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province. In his childhood he was brought back to his hometown Dantu where he studied calligraphy. From 1935 to 1941, he studied painting at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. In 1948, he went to Paris to live on the same block in Montparnasse where the classes of Émile Otto Friesz took place. His earliest exhibitions in France were met with praise from Joan Miró and Picasso.
In 1957, Zao decided to visit the United States where his younger brother Chao Wu-Wai was living in Montclair, New Jersey, close to the art scene of New York City. He wanted to learn more about “pop art”. While in the US, he painted seven canvases at his brother’s house. There are relatively few items dating from that year (1957).
He left the U.S. after a six-week stay, traveling to Tokyo and then to Hong Kong.
Zao’s works, influenced by Paul Klee, are orientated to abstraction. He names them with the date in which he finishes them, and in them, masses of colours appear to materialise a creating world, like a big bang, where light structures the canvas. He worked formats in triptychs and diptychs. While his work was stylistically similar to the Abstract Expressionists whom he met while travelling in New York, he was influenced by Impressionism. Zao Wou-ki stated that he had been influenced by the works of Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne.
His meetings with Henri Michaux pushed him to review his Indian ink techniques, always based in Chinese traditional drawings. Zao was considered to have been one of the most successful Chinese painters during his lifetime.