First Rays from New York
Executed in 1959 and 1960 respectively, Untitled and Raining in Rainbow are rare and exemplary archetypes from Walasse Ting’s early abstract period in New York that situates delicately between bold abstract expression and exquisite calligraphic refinement. Having lived and worked in Paris and New York in the 1950s and 1960s when the cities were vortexes of major post-war art movements, most notably Abstract Expressionism, the artist and poet digested and absorbed the multifaceted essences of the dynamic global landscape and ultimately conceived a wholly unique artistic vocabulary that distinguished him as one of the most celebrated avant-garde artists of his time. The present two lots were created within the first three years of his relocation from Paris to New York; exuding a uniquely explosive grace and charm that amalgamate Eastern essences with Western Abstract Expressionism, they emanate the simultaneously rapturous and refined temperament that powerfully defines Ting’s early abstract works: volatile yet composed, exuberant yet self-assured.
Such a distinctive aesthetic was liberated through Ting’s lifelong travels and experiences around the world. Born in 1928 in Shanghai, the artist left China for Hong Kong in 1946 and subsequently moved to Paris in 1952. While in Europe, Ting became closely acquainted with the CoBrA artists such as Karel Appel, Asger Jorn and Pierre Alechinsky; most notably, Ting was said to have taught Alechinsky how to paint with ink. During this period, albeit strongly influenced by Henri Matisse (he was said to have changed his name to Walasse Ting in tribute to Matisse) and other European masters, Ting developed a singular aesthetic of predominantly black abstractions anchored by an Oriental calligraphic use of line. In 1954, Ting held his first solo exhibition at the Paul Fachetti Gallery in Paris which was widely acclaimed by the Parisian art circle.
Ting then moved to New York in 1958 – a time when Abstract Expressionism was at its peak and Pop Art was brewing – and further emboldened his artistic voice. Exhibiting charged, balletic swathes of deep black, Untitled is archetypal to Ting’s paintings from this period, which demonstrate a superlative fusion of the Far Eastern calligraphic tradition and the spontaneous spirit of Abstract Expressionism. Notably, Untitled also implicitly alludes to sexual motifs and are indicative of the artist’s early interest in the body and sexuality that eventually led him back to figuration in the 1970s. Just like in Paris, Ting’s aesthetic was quickly welcomed by New York; in 1959, the same year that Untitled was created, the Martha Jackson Gallery mounted the artist’s debut solo exhibition in the city. This was a crucial milestone for Ting, as the gallery was one of the most highly regarded proponents for post-war contemporary art, and championed such giants as Willem de Kooning and Sam Francis.
The high level of exposure Ting received in his debut New York exhibition established his reputation on a global scale, prompting other galleries to provide him with a solo stage across Europe and the United States in the 1960s; including Lefebre Gallery, Galerie Birch, Galerie Espace and Galerie de France, amongst others. All through this time, Ting was active in the New York scene: together with Sam Francis, Ting published the book 1 Cent Life in 1964, which featured 69 colored lithographs from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Karel Appel, Andy Warhol and himself.
Although his abstract works were widely acclaimed, Ting did not stop at Expressionism. Steadfast in his search for a unique visual form, Ting turned back gradually to figuration whilst retaining the dynamic gestural momentum of his abstract works. Executed in 1960, two years after the artist’s move to New York, Raining in Rainbow hails from a pivotal turning point in Ting’s career – the early crossroads of his evolution from abstraction to neo-figuration. While the aggressive surge of black at the center retains compositional dominance, the exuberant explosions of vivid crimson and yellow interlaced with specks of green and blue enlivened the artist’s modus operandi to a new dimension. Only just discernible are the morphing forms of a radiating sun or a blooming flower – motifs that would recur frequently and come to be representative of Ting’s later works in the 1970s onwards. As one of Ting’s earliest experimentations with colour, Raining in Rainbow encapsulates the artist’s unbridled passion for both life and art.