Friday, September 24, 2010

Explosions of colour: Walasse Ting

The painter and lithographer Walasse Ting, who died earlier this year, occupies a unique place in the dialogue between American and European art in the 1960s. Ting was an outsider to both cultures. He was born Ding Xiongquan in Shanghai in 1929. After studying briefly at the Shanghai Art Academy, he left China in 1946, living initially in Hong Kong before sailing to France in 1950. In Paris, Walasse Ting came under the influence of the artists who made up the avant-garde group CoBrA, most notably Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, and Asger Jorn. In 1958, Ting moved to America, where his closest associate was the Abstract Expressionist painter Sam Francis. In 1964, Walasse Ting and Sam Francis collaborated on one of the greatest artist’s books of the period, a collection of Ting’s stream-of-consciousness Pop Art poems illustrated with original lithographs by a total of 28 artists, entitled One Cent Life. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of this, but it’s a remarkable work, and particularly notable for the way in which it mixes the slick Pop Art of Americans such as Andy Warhol with the turbulent work of the CoBrA artists. Whereas in the USA Pop Art concerned itself largely with surfaces, as a comment on consumerism, in Europe it concerned itself with structures, as a critique of consumerism. A typical CoBrA work is a violent, semi-abstract, distorted, highly-sophisticated version of a child’s drawing. There are echoes of folk art and tribal art, and a sense of rejection of society’s falsely-imposed sense of order and respectability. Walasse Ting could straddle both these worlds, and it is largely due to his One Cent Life that one can even speak of a single Pop Art movement, embracing both the Americans and the Europeans. 

Pierre Alechinsky. Hommage à Aimé et Marguerite Maeght
Lithograph, 1982

Sam Francis, Noise
Lithograph, 1989

Like his friends Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, Walasse Ting was very open to European ideas, and it is these three above all who incorporated into American Abstract Expressionism the aesthetics of the gestural semi-abstract European style known as Art Informel (which, in turn, was profoundly influenced by de Kooning and Pollock). From the mid-1970s Wallace Ting’s art became much more figurative and decorative, concentrating on brightly-coloured images of naked women, flowers, birds, horses, and other animals, in a vivid dreamscape of sensual pleasure. These works, painted in acrylics with a Chinese brush on rice paper, have a great deal of charm and vivacity (you can see a selection here), but I prefer his more challenging earlier work. Wallace Ting’s lithographs of the 1960s simply explode onto the page in an orgasmic riot of colour. There’s a rawness and immediacy to his work of this period that really appeals to me.

Walasse Ting, Untitled composition 1
Lithograph, 1963

Walasse Ting, Untitled composition 3
Lithograph, 1963

Walasse Ting, Untitled composition 6
Lithograph, 1963

Walasse Ting, Untitled composition 9
Lithograph, 1963

My first Walasse Ting lithographs are all untitled compositions from the catalogue to his 1963 exhibition at the Galerie Birch in Copenhagen. The lithographs were printed by Permild and Rosengreen.

Wallace Ting, Butterfly gun
Lithograph, 1967

Walasse Ting, Iris bursting
Lithograph, 1967

Walasse Ting, Singing in the rain
Lithograph, 1967

Walasse Ting, Twinkling star
Lithograph, 1967

My next group of lithographs, also printed by Permild and Rosengreen, were made in 1967 for Walasse Ting’s collection of classical Chinese poetry, in his own translations, Chinese Moonlight. The lithographs were bound into the book, so have a central vertical fold and minute thread holes; on the plus side, all four of mine are boldly signed in pencil Ting ’67; the book is additionally inscribed by Ting to John Schiff.

Walasse Ting, Someone make love
Lithograph, 1969

Walasse Ting, Love is many splendored thing
Lithograph, 1969

Walasse Ting, Male order
Lithograph, 1969

Walasse Ting, Chicken chow mein
Lithograph, 1969

Walasse Ting, Rainbow as thread
Lithograph, 1969

Walasse Ting, Dedicated to all prostitutes in the world
Lithograph, 1969

My final Walasse Ting lithographs, printed by Bjørn Rosengreen and published by the Sam Francis Foundation, come from his poetry collection Hot & Sour Soup. My copy of this was inscribed by Ting to the influential art critic of the New York Times, “To John Canaday, Sunshine as best wishes, moonlight as desert, from Walasse Ting 22 October 1969 NYC”.

Walasse Ting, Dragonflies mating
Ink drawing, 1969

And last of all I have a single Walasse Ting ink drawing, boldly drawn on a blank page of Hot & Sour Soup for John Canaday.

Walasse Ting, 1929-2010
Photographed in 1963

In his later years Wallace Ting lived in Amsterdam, making frequent trips to both New York and Tahiti. He ceased painting in 2002 after suffering a severe stroke, and died in New York on May 17, 2010.


Matías Amici said...

Beautiful prints...

Matías Amici

Jane Librizzi said...

I especially like the prints that were shown in Copenhagen. His colors remind me of another artist of that time, Bob Thompson, who seems to me to be a modern Nabi of sorts. Those blocks of vibrant color look so optimistic.

Neil said...

Thanks, Matias.

Neil said...

Jane - What an interesting comparison. Bob Thompson was not familiar to me until now (what did we do before Google?) but I see what you mean. And how sad that Thompson had such an abbreviated life, when he expressed so much vibrancy in his work.