In the history of art, particularly contemporary and modern art, some names manage to slip through the net, despite the quality and impact of their work. Chinese-American artist Walasse Ting is one of those. His art was a bridge between the two cultures that defined him, vibrant exemplars of clashing ideologies.
Ting’s bright paintings amassed what could easily be described as a cult following. Critically admired and with a strong number of proponents, he still never managed to make enough of a dent on the art world to become a truly popular name. That’s something that needs to change.
His paintings were largely of nudes and/or animals. They have a distinctive figurative style that brings together the tonality and palette of New York’s pop art, whilst also incorporating some elements of the equally popular abstract expressionism, both of which he became immersed in after arriving in the city in 1957, in his late 20s.
Bringing with him a deep sense of place, but also a will to explore, Ting integrated his psychology into the American way of life at the same time as he adapted his background and knowledge of traditional Chinese art, best defined throughout his career by strokes typical of Oriental brushes.
Still young arriving in America, his art already had the cultural inflection of France, after living and working in Paris in the eight years leading up to his move to the United States. It was here, where he became close with the COBRA art movement, a pan-European group of artists whose avant-garde works functioned under a particular manifesto which promoted work that was critical of European and Western trends.
Rejecting the contemporary movements of the time (1948-1951), these artists embraced boldness, with violently written handwriting, reminiscent of primitive graffiti, interwoven with bright coloured folkloric and mythological motifs. They heralded the uncivilised, thumbing their nose at establishment art. Although largely unrelated, the COBRA group - named so for (CO)penhagen, (BR)ussels and (A)msterdam, the home countries of the initial members - paved a path for artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat years later.
Emboldened by a commitment to doing things their own way, Ting brought this attitude into his traditional approach, quickly creating a style of art that had never been seen before, a pop-figuratism steeped in the Orient.
Throughout his career, the childlike aesthetic that made the COBRA group so recognisable, championing the process in the act of painting as much as the finished product, Ting, although invested in the finished piece, put his paintings together almost as a composite of styles, with portraiture and abstract splashes, bold colours and irregular lighting. It was painting not by number, but by emotion.
Without peer then and still, to this day, even in a saturated art market. Ting’s name represents what can happen when one is eager to learn, to travel, to see and, most importantly, to do.
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