Wed, Dec 08, 2010 - Page 14 News List

A neon legacy

A half year after the death of Walasse Ting, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum presents the first ever retrospective on the painter

By David Frazier  /  Contributing Reporter

Walasse Ting’s mature painting style dates from the 1970s, at which time he applied his full explosion of color to erotic, highly expressionistic paintings of nude women that the exhibition essay quite rightly discusses in Freudian terms. He later toned down this intense sexuality, but from this time his subject matter had been distilled to a narrow range of elements: mainly women, flowers and birds, though also butterflies and the other denizens of the hothouse Eden of Walasse Ting’s florid imagination.

From the mid-1980s, Walasse Ting began painting on rice paper with thin washes of acrylic paint, and both in terms of brushwork and composition, this later work seems to call upon traditional Chinese scroll painting, becoming a sort of pop art version of bird and flower painting. Often, this is where he’s at his most magnificent.

Walasse Ting’s internationalism and nomadic identity however raise interesting questions about his legacy, and in this current spate of shows this is certainly a subtext. Will he be remembered as a Chinese Matisse, come home at last? Or as a curious wild card in the mix of New York’s pop and abstraction? His work certainly rests in the collections of the greatest museums of the West — the Metropolitan and MoMA in New York, London’s Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and many others — but since 1990 he largely exhibited in Asia.

That said, the question of a legacy is one Walasse Ting may not have cared much about.

“The way Walasse Ting lived life, it was almost Zen,” said Kuan Kuan. “For him, life is just like that. The most important thing was to live in the moment.”

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