After Walasse Ting (丁雄泉) fled Communist-pressed Hong Kong for Paris in 1950, he adopted his unique first name by first Anglicizing his Chinese name, then tacking on “-sse” in emulation of the famed painter Henri Matisse. Ting had little money and few connections, but within five years this son of a wealthy Jiangxi Province family had befriended a fellow artist in the abstractionist Pierre Alechinsky, who was to become a lifelong friend and would take some influence from the Chinese calligraphy lessons Ting gave him.
By 1958, Ting had sold enough paintings in the galleries of Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam to move on to the pulsating hub of the international art world of that day, New York City. There he went on to establish a studio, start a family, work hand-in-hand with legends of the era like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and spend the bulk of his life and formidable career as an abstract painter, pop poet, brilliant colorist, erotic adventurer and expatriate Chinese artist, though no single label has ever managed to stick to a man whose identity as an artist was always, to say the least, multivalent.
Preparation for Ting’s first ever retrospective, From Heroic Expression to Resplendent Color at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) until Feb. 13, began well before his death on May 17 this year, which came after eight bed-ridden years following a brain hemorrhage in 2002. Covering more than 50 years, the exhibition is probably the first to show the full breadth of Ting’s stylistic development, as well as four never-before-seen 10m canvases — they are as breathtaking as they are large — that have spent most of the past 10 years rolled up in Ting’s Amsterdam studio.
Private galleries in Taipei and Hong Kong are also mounting shows, including SOKA Art Center Taipei (The Floral Journey until Jan. 2) and Hong Kong’s Alisan Fine Arts (I Love Flowers All My Life until Dec. 31).
“What he liked was youth, vibrancy, summer, spring,” said Kuan Kuan (管管), a Taiwanese poet who became fast friends with Ting in the early 1970s. “And when autumn came, he liked the autumn that wasn’t autumn, the autumn with the flowers still blooming.”
Jesse Ting, his son, told the Taipei Times just ahead of the TFAM opening that: “He painted every day of his life. He painted on Christmas. He painted on his birthday. He would paint when we were traveling, in the hotel room.”
“Around him, you were always in the studio,” he said.
Walasse Ting was a legendary bon vivant, whose success as an artist fed epicurean tastes and colorful fancies. From the 1970s on, his paintings flowed from an almost neon palette, and he also applied garish, tropical color schemes and patterns to the suits he wore, the cars he drove and even the stories he told.
“He used to drive a Rolls Royce. If he didn’t have 10 of them, he had a dozen. That’s what he told me,” said Kuan Kuan.
A painter with a fleet of Rolls Royces?
“That’s a big exaggeration,” laughed Mia Ting, his daughter. “With my father, there were a lot of exaggerations, and to be fair, I think he prompted most of them.”
“When he had more than one — I think he had three at one time — you have to understand that these were all secondhand cars,” said Jesse Ting. “That he traded paintings for,” added Mia Ting. “He painted them green and purple. They were like Beatles cars. They lost any resale value the moment he bought them.”