Walasse Ting emerges as one of the most interesting and important painters of the 20th century. An artist who made a reputation for himself at the centre of the 20th century world art scene in Paris and New York as a Chinese man.
Ting was born in Wuxi, China in 1929 but raised in Shanghai. Though he underwent some early formal training at the Shanghai Art Academy, he was largely self-taught and would even paint on the pavements of his home town. During the 1940s, Ting persuaded a bookshop owner in Hong Kong to display some of his watercolours, and this brought him to the attention of business magnate John Keswick, who bought a number of paintings for $100 each.
In 1952 at the age of 23, Ting left China for Paris. Arriving with barely any money and very few connections, he became associated with the avant-garde group, ‘CoBrA’ - a school of artists based in Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A). CoBrA preached pure experimentation in colour and did not turn to museums or galleries for inspiration but Nordic myths and children’s drawings becoming the ‘Language of CoBrA’. During this time, Ting formed a lifelong friendship with Belgian artist, Pierre Alechinsky.
By 1958, Ting re-located again to New York at the height of abstract Expressionism and Pop Art movements. His works transitioned from black and white abstractions reminiscent of Zao Wou-Ki to bold, brightly coloured figurative works blending calligraphy brush strokes with splashes and splatters. This was where his style - and his following - took flight. Absorbing the influence of the firebrand innovators of the period - Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Asger Jorn, Robert Rauschenberg and others.
Ting also began to write poetry, penning short enigmatic pieces in English. In 1964, a book of his poems was published with a folio of over 60 prints by 28 major artists: Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Sam Francis, James Rosenquist and more. Essentially every major artist on the New York scene was a participant. Their involvement reflected Ting’s vaulted reputation and his unique place at a spot between pop and abstraction, and between the US, Europe and China.
By the 1970s, Ting began to paint nude, sultry women and later to studies of flowers, birds and animals with unique luminous colours encapsulating his immersion in Western experimental ideas. Hence, his Western name - Walasse - was inspired by the spelling of Matisse.
Ting’s Chinese roots were always evident. Ting’s flattened perspectives recall scroll paintings, as do the recurring floral motifs. Still later, the Eastern inspirations became more explicit. In the 1980s, Ting began using rice paper to produce a series of fabulous and delicate bird and flower paintings.
Many of these works were made in Amsterdam, which reminded Ting of Hangzhou and its canals. He loved it there, and moved to the Netherlands in 1987. Sadly, he suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2002, and died in 2010.
Today, with China at the forefront of the global economy, a new audience is coming to understand this unique artist, one who straddled Western and Eastern art but stands alone.