In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s of the previous century, Walasse Ting's work was immensely popular in America and Europe. The lithographs and posters had sky-high print runs. The prices of the original works on rice paper and canvas reached absolute records. For more than ten years now there has been an continuous and increasing interest in his work in China and other Asian countries. The demand is huge now new museums have to be filled and the rich have discovered the art of Chinese origin. Time for a retrospective!
door Bert Kuipers
Walasse Ting was born in Wuxi, 125 km northwest of Shanghai. According to Chinese tradition parents give their child a first name that reflects the qualities and characteristics that they want for their child. This is how Tings' parents came to call their son 'Hsiung Chuen', which means so much as 'powerful and abundant flowing source'. For good balance they added the name 'Hua la Si' ('spoiled').Ting draws and paints from his early youth. Although he follows some lessons at the Shanghai Art Academy, the program does not have much to offer him as is often the case with opinionated and talented artists. In his early years he can be found in the streets of his home town Shanghai where he illuminates the sidewalks with countless chalk drawings. In 1946 he moves, to Hong Kong where he soon exhibits his work in a bookstore. In this period he starts selling watercolors to American collectors of Modern Art for the first time.
In 1950 he travels to France; probably motivated by this success. He disembarks in Marseilles with a cardboard suitcase and a roll of rice paper which he has wrapped in a red cloth. He arrives with only five US dollars in his pocket, without a passport and without a visa and he doesn’t speak French at all. In Paris he finds shelter in a small apartment in the Passage Raguinot in the 12th arrondissement. Although the apartment lacks space Ting starts frantically painting huge paintings on canvas and paper. There is no place to view the result from a distance. He remains loyal to the great sizes, the physical brushes in the tradition of Chinese calligraphy and painting. In Paris, Ting also has his first confrontation with Western abstraction, in particular with the works of Picasso and Matisse. They leave an indelible impression. In admiration for Matisse, he decides to change the last syllable of his first name Hua La Si to -sse. This is how Europe, America, the rest of the world, will know him in the future: Walasse Ting.
In the Fifties, Ting's star steadily rises. He lives in poverty, but artistically he takes important steps. He exhibits in a group exhibition in the famous Parisian Facchetti gallery and befriends Pierre Alechinsky. Both find each other in oriental calligraphy.Alechinsky brings Ting into contact with Cobra artists. Not surprising since in Cobra the link between painting and poetry is manifest in the early years of this movement. Ting is particularly interested in to the work of Karel Appel, with whom he exhibits at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam alongside artists such, Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont and the poets Lucebert en Bert Schierbeek in 1965. By this time Ting's poetry collection My shit and my love has already been published.
In 1959 the American years begin. Ting settles in New York, where he moves into a studio on 100 West 25th Street in Manhattan. The windows and walls of this studio are soon filled with paint that Ting splashes paint like rain on his canvas and rice paper. In these years, he meets Sam Francis. This artist introduces him to pop art and abstract expressionism. One evening, during a gathering with other artists in Francis's apartment, the idea comes up to make an overview of all current trends in the visual arts of their time.
In 1964 the legendary One Cent Life is published. The work is not only regarded as the most artistically designed book of its time but also as a compact visual and psychedelic manifesto of the sixties. In addition to the pulsating street poetry by Walasse Ting, it contains 62 loose-leaf lithographs by well-known artists from that period such as Andy Warhol,Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Alan Davie, Tom Wesselmann, Sam Francis, Asger Jorn and Karel Appel. One Cent Life has a 2000 edition which has become a real collector’s item.
In the Seventies, Ting's work evolved into a pictorial synthesis; the Chinese calligraphy of the poetic word, merges with the expressive images of Western abstraction. His work is also moving develops towards the figurative. He starts painting the female figure, his muse par excellence, in the evocative style that has become so familiar today's art lover.
In Tings original artworks with acrylic paint on rice paper, in neon colours, fluorescent, it is 'always the woman' in every pose; erotising, European or Asian, surrounded by parrots, grasshoppers, cats, horses, flowers and fruit. Ting exhibits in all well-known galleries around the world. Every self-respecting museum in the world displays his work, from The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, from the Silkeborg Kunstmuseum in Denmark to the Israel National Museum in Jerusalem and the National Gallery of Art in Reykjavik and nowadays in museums in the People's Republic as the Chinese are buying back the works of their ‘lost son’.
Ting becomes a striking figure in New York's street life, dressed in extravagant suits, cruising the streetsin a blue or bright pink Rolls Royce. Countless muses populate his studio, near his home in Greenwich Village,sometimes as groupies, often as mistresses. Oncemore Walasse is the spoiled boy Hua la Si. There are copious dinners in expensive restaurants, where Walasse orders all Chinese dishes available on the menu. Everyone is welcome at his table. His entourage share in his prosperity; his muses, as well as gallery holders who have his work in stock. He is warm and accessible.
Unfortunately, in his lesser moments he is almost manic, hiding in an oriental silence, totally shut off. For days, sometimes weeks in a row, he is unable to work his studio. He becomes melancholic and full of homesickness for his motherland China. Then again obsessively painting, many hours and days in a row, cleared of every obstruction, detonating on paper and canvas in all colors of the rainbow.
In the seventies and eighties of the last century, Ting is one of the most important artistic US representatives. In 1984, after a journey that brings him to Tahiti and inspired him enormously like it once did Gaugain, his collection of poems Peinture sur papier de riz is published in Paris. This work contains, in addition to poems, a retrospective with 316 exotic paintings that Ting made between 1975 and 1980.
In 1987 after the death of his wife Nathalie in 1986, Walasse Ting goes on a trip with his son and daughter to Amsterdam. The canals remind him of the town Hangzhou in China. He likes daily life in the Dutch capital so well that he decides to live there permanently. In Amsterdam he rediscovers his all-encompassing motif, his muse; the woman. He paints over sixty models in his studio on the Keizersgracht. They are immortalized on rice paper and canvas in acrylic, charcoal, oil and pastel. They are published in the book Jolies Dames.
In 2002, fate strikes. Walasse Ting is hit by a fatal brain haemorrhage. For eight years he is taken care off in a nursing home in Amstelveen, far from his native country, no longer approachable, no longer able to paint, comatose. In 2010 his children take him back to New York where he dies within a fortnight in 2010. His orgiastic colors still vibrate and fluoresce on paintings in many private and museum collections. They are an ode to love and life that can be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. Walasse Ting lives on, celebrating life, far into the future, immortalized by his artworks.
The works for sale in the Netherlands mostly date from his Amsterdam period. The works on rice paper that are for sale at Bert Kuipers Kunsthandel have a very special provenance; they come from the collection of one of Ting's Amsterdam muses, Els. Apart from his pictures of females they include a fixed repertoire of motifs: cats, flowers, parrots, fruit, grasshoppers and horses. Besides the exuberant color, there is room for the stillness in diluted ink or paint on very thin rice paper, small sized work in the Chinese tradition, aus einem Guss (in one stroke). The majority is signed in the form of an ideogram, a Chinese stamp, with character (s) in red lacquer that reflects one of Ting's many poetic artists' names.