Zao Wou-Ki was born in 1920, Beijing, China.
He attended the National School of Arts in Hangchow for six years before becoming a drawing professor at the same institution. In 1947 he moved to Paris where he became friends with the artists Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miró. His work, defined by an abstract and gestural style, quickly received praise. It has a notorious influence to restore abstraction during a period when art critics began to question whether the style could adequately express the harsh realities and emotions of the postwar world.
Zao Wou-Ki became a fundamental and historical figure in the art of the mid-20th century. Throughout his career, he merges eastern and western aesthetic traditions in his painting, maintaining his own technicality in the style of Chinese painting in a dialogue with European modernism. Inspired by Paul Klee and his appreciation of oriental art, Zao Wou-Ki begins to contemplate nature in his own work and to incorporate traditional Chinese calligraphy into his evolving artistic language.
With other artists from the famous École de Paris, Zao Wou-Ki begins to paint in an even bolder way, using highly saturated colors and intense lines in his compositions; in the mid-1950s, the influence of Chinese calligraphy on his work became more pronounced. During this time, Zao Wou-Ki travels regularly to New York, where he meets several abstract expressionists, such as Barnett Newman and Franz Kline. In the 1970's, lines and gestures recede in his work, being replaced by nebulous and surreal compositions with an ethereal feeling of space.
Zao Wou-ki’s prolonged association with the main artists of his time, together with the use of Eastern and Western artistic traditions, contributes to making his work a reference. His works are part of important collections such as the Fogg Museum in Boston, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among many others.
Zao Wou-Ki dies in 2013, at 93, in Switzerland.