Red Mouth, Walasse Ting & Toppan Printing co. (Hong Kong) Ltd, Hong Kong, 1977, color illustrated, cover
Born in China in 1929 (some say 1928) in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, Walasse Ting grew up in Shanghai. He began painting in the streets of the city from early childhood, and at one point entered the Shanghai College of Fine Arts for a brief period of study; however, his freedom-loving and spontaneous character made him averse to the strictures of an academy education. Ting always prided himself in being self- taught, and believed in following his impulses and inspirations as the best way of creative self-actualization. He moved to Hong Kong in 1946, where he had a single-artist exhibition at the Hotel Cecil in 1952. After that, he went to Paris for six years, beginning his “international journey of “artistic adventure.”
Ting soon became good friends with several members of the art group CoBrA, which flourished in Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, finding the group’s style and outlook congenial to his own nature. During this period, he held simultaneous exhibitions in Paris and Brussels, before moving on to New York in 1958. There he found himself on the cusp of the abstract-expressionist movement, and later became one of the first people to recognize the unique talents of Andy Warhol—Ting himself was also closely associated with the pop art movement. His unconventional character, both debonair and emotional, made the CoBrA group with its focus on free self- expression his natural playground, while abstract expressionism allowed him to give free rein to his penchant for sublimating his moods via the distinctive dots, lines, planes, colors, shapes and compositions that make up the basic vocabulary of his art. Finally, the everyday, contemporary- reality allure of pop art chimed well with Ting’s affinity for striking images with mass appeal.
Beginning in the 1960s, New York’s fast pace and futuristic feel inspired Ting’s acrylic paint phase. From that point on, the artist’s palette shifted towards bright and brilliant hues, with drip and splash painting becoming one of his preferred modes of color application. His style now combined a straightforward variety of abstract expressionism with the mottled tones and decorative patterns of Fauvism in the vein of Matisse, whose work was a dominant influence on Ting’s artistic development. That development, in terms of format and technique, started with black-and- white oil paintings in the abstract style, and led all the way to extremely colorful figurative art. However, Ting’s favorite subject, whatever the style or genre, was always the female body, often nude. At the end of the 1950s, he began to explore strongly erotic themes. His deep fascination with sexuality and the female form probably make his work of that time the most authentic expression of his inner world and emotions. During his New York period, he conveyed his moods with arresting shapes and colors, executed in powerful brushstrokes to generate a series of exciting works in the abstract- expressionist style. It was only in the 1970s that his approach shifted again, this time towards more figurate forms of painting. In 1975, he created a series of works titled “Love Me, Love Me,” embarking on the large-scale production of pictures of beautiful women. It was also the year in which he painted “Miss World,” a super-sized work that became a milestone of his career, earning recognition from experts and critics around the world.
Walasse Ting was a poet as well as a painter. His fellow poet and good friend Guan Guan once remarked, “His poetry puts glory in plain sight, and is astonishing in its boldness and daring.”
“The moon is round and hearts are soft. Full of wistful longing, I scratch my belly but feel no appetite. Tears are welling up in my eyes.”
“Everyday I eat oranges, exposed to the wind all the time. Every minute I spend looking at women, every second in the sun.”
“Beautiful women are everywhere in Paris. Still the spring breeze is wafting over blossoming beauties. Gusts of wind presage rain from the mountains, flowers fall on the water like poems.”
All of the above are short poems from 1974, jotted down carelessly by Ting on postcards with a fountain pen. The terse lines are brimming with free-flowing associations and romantic nostalgia, and were his way of sharing his feelings with old friends in faraway places. Ting was a man who drank up life with all his senses, a playful painter who enjoyed doodling and graffiti, and excelled at impromptu poems of a haiku-like quality: they might make you blush and your heart beat faster occasionally, and like his paintings, they are full of dazzling beauty and daring passion. His words, like his visual art, serve to praise beauty and zest for life. Ting once said, “Every time I see a beautiful woman she’ll make me think of a fragrant flower, and the sheer beauty of that flower makes me fall in love, makes me feel fresh and young. Whatever I paint—women, cats, flowers, birds—is meant to capture that freshness, because in freshness there is great beauty.”
The going rate for an artist’s work is largely determined by a lot’s year of completion, its size, and the overall variety of themes and styles offered by his entire oeuvre. If you look at the paintings that usually rank at the top of individual artists’ “hit lists,” you will find that most of them are representative works from important creative periods, or otherwise rare works that almost never surface on the market. The 1975 super-size oil painting “Miss World,” measuring 222 x 396 cm and depicting 18 attractive young beauties against a green background. A small reproduction of the work previously appeared in the 1977 anthology Red Mouth. Sitting upright in the two rows of seats, the 18 beautiful smiling women have their own respective charm with their appealing eyes and small red lips. Some are nude while others are dressed in thin clothes, revealing their admirably curvaceous and alluring figures. Their voluminous hair is highlighted with various bright colors and the blooming flowers, bestowing the beauties with an ethereal and dreamlike ambience. They resemble blooming flowers with the bright green background while the colorful splashes on canvas work look like firework and colored strips, creating a pleasant and festival-like atmosphere to the gathering. Ting’s unique art style is bold and strongly expressive. His use of the brightest colors in the paintings never makes his creations vulgar or cheesy. Rather, under his fully-developed mastery of art, he cleverly turned the bright colors, such as red, yellow, blue, purple, and green, into impressively splendid hues, which earns him much credit for his skillful control of highly saturated colors.