The New York School’s Vibrant Eastern Sun
In the 1960s and 70s, many overseas Chinese artists achieved international renown. If Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-Chun were the Parisian representatives of this generation, Hsiao Chin the representative of Milan, and Richard Lin the representative of London, then the New York representative could be none other than Walasse Ting. This self-proclaimed “Flower Thief” spent his life living in Hong Kong, Paris, New York, and Amsterdam, and established a reputation as a veritable artistic master. Romantic and confident, Ting was unconventional in his beliefs, and seemed untouched by the volatile goings-on of the world. His work overflows with a passion for life, with bold demonstrations of desire, which conveyed intense eroticism without descending into vulgarity. In this way, they emanate an irresistible humour and charm. Among his Chinese contemporaries, Ting was a peerless paragon of joy. And in the context of international art history, he was a remarkable figure in his ability to free himself from the burdens of nationality and ethnicity, naturally extending his exuberant camaraderie to everyone. While Ting was in Paris in the 1950s, he became deeply involved in the CoBrA movement, and when he moved to New York in the 60s, he was closely tied to the New York School. In 1964, Ting published a collection of poetry titled One Cent Life, in which he included prints from 68 celebrities of the contemporary art world, including Sam Francis, Antonio Saura, Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, and Andy Warhol, a testament to his highly impressive artistic network. The works by this vivacious postwar artist have since been collected by over forty international art museums and foundations, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, London’s Tate Gallery, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The lots on offer at this evening sale, A Lots of Sunshine Here (Lot 1030) and Winds Sing Song (Lot 1031), are not only magnificent in their size and bountiful colour, they are rare museum-quality pieces belonging to the collection at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh.
“For a piece to be real, an artist must paint like someone who does not know how to do it. If what you want is simply to achieve verisimilitude, then all you need is to put in the time to work on technique. The worst thing is for an artist to spend one’s life hammering away on technique, like an old lady knitting day after day.”
Ting believed himself not to belong to any art school. While Chinese artists were striving, one after another, to push Eastern elements into the lexicon of postwar painting, Ting was comparatively motivated by his individual passions and loves, allowing the influences of his culture and ethnicity to trickle through naturally. For this reason, viewing Ting’s work is an experience of lightness and ease. It is as though one is witnessing the work of a youthful artist, full of vigour and surging creativity, casually fiddling with the paintbrush and allowing his joy and inspiration to spill out directly from the heart. A Lots of Sunshine Here and Winds Sing Song were created in the early 1970s, just as the artist was beginning to enter the period in which flowers and women became his dominant subjects. Influenced by the abstract expressionism of the New York School, the artist had already reached a realm of complete creative immersion. The splashes of vibrant red spill across the canvas like the bold rays of the sun, while the verdant green, bright yellow, and tender peach neon acrylic colours spray across the canvas in dynamic motion, as though fluttering in the wind. The artist bestows the paint with incomparable freedom of motion, re-enacting upon the canvas the passion and action of nature. The action painting that became iconic of American abstractionist Jackson Pollock is similarly imbued within Ting’s large-scale abstract paintings. Yet Ting often did not insist upon filling up the entire canvas; rather, he intentionally allowed his carefully laid foundation to remain visible, creating contrast and dynamism between the still and uniform colour of the foundation and the gorgeous releases of dynamic colour layered upon it. This is an evolved manifestation of the “leaving blank” technique practiced in traditional Chinese painting, which not only highlights the spirit of Zen, but also constructs a beauty that comes from the union of the dichotomy between real-and-unreal. Ting spent his life in the West, ceaselessly exploring, like a never-ending party, and yet the spring breeze and glorious sunrays rolling into the party naturally originated from the East. Thus, viewers from all corners of the world can experience the artist’s joy intimately, in a way not limited by national boundaries.