Wind and Sea, by Ting Shao Kuang (1988)
Like the surf of great music
THE works of China-born artist Ting Shao Kuang are painted music, with their exquisite lines, symmetry of form and harmonious colours. Under a lesser hand, they would probably have degenerated into decorative poster art – saccharine pieces for anyone with a sweet tooth for candy graphics.
Ting, happily, is able to combine line, form and hue into a unified grace, so that the whole sweeps you in a majestic flow, much like the surf of great music. Before he commits paint to rice paper, Ting first creates his lines, crisp, jet-black and uniform, on an unadorned background. But these are no static lines from some kid’s colouring book. Although on a flat, two-dimensional plane, they ebb and flow in restless melody.
He then fleshed out the lines with gold ink, and the white spaces in various shades of a single dominant colour, especially an aquamarine blue or the occasional vermillion. The finished whole reminds one of the European Art Noveau of the 1920s but Ting adds minute details that seem to project hidden microcosmic universes.
An excellent example is Wind and Sea, where the wind-borne tresses of the fisher maid are expressed in wave upon wave of lines. One wants to examine closely each hairline, so to speak, to reassure one that no further mysteries are hidden under their restless flow.
Wind and Sea, my favourite, is also an example of the genius of Ting, expressed in a complete absence of the sea. All the elements of a fishing scene – boats, sails, baskets of fishes – are depicted in the lines. The sea, alone, does not seem to exist, except in the all-sufficient waves of the girl’s hair.
In most of the works, a single female figure holds the entire painting together. She is eternally poised, her fluid hands and legs forever on the verge of a dance, a leap. One expects her to spring out of the page, to get over that verge, such is the power of the artist’s suggestion.
Ting, born in 1939, has been passionate about his craft since graduating from Beijing’s Central Academy of Arts and Design in 1962. He was then assigned to teach at the Yunnan Art Institute in Kunming, a provincial capital in the far south, where he spent evenings painting in an abstract style that was considered unacceptable to the regime. In the morning, he would burn his painstaking work to avoid being caught by the authorities.
In 1979, he was commissioned by the Chinese government to paint a mural for the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. That mural, Beautiful, Abundant, Exotic Xishuangbanna 美麗神奇的西雙版納, is regarded as one of the wonders of modern art. In 1980,
Ting moved to the United States where he paints, teaches art in various universities and holds exhibitions. He has also painted several theme series – Human Rights, Motherhood and Religion And Peace – for United Nations postage stamps.
His works have aroused worldwide admiration such that they command astronomical prices. They are of two kinds – the original paintings that cost between $300,000 and $500,000 apiece, and the handcrafted serigraphs (silkscreen print copies) that cost from $300 to $10,000 each, depending on size.
At an current exhibition of Ting’s works at Opera Gallery in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, 10 originals (ranging from $290,000 to $450,000 each), 20 ink line drawings ($33,000 to $42,000 each) and six lithograph copies ($8,800 each) are on display. Step inside for a moment to contemplate the quiet magnificience of his works.
Painting Paradise, an Exhibition of Ting Shao Kuang, is on at Opera Gallery, Takashimaya Shopping Centre #02-12H, daily till September 30, 1999, 11am to 8pm.
– Art review by Francis Chin, The Straits Times, September 15, 1999
This review was based on an interview with the artist when he was in Singapore to exhibit his works in 1999. Writing reviews of Chinese paintings and sculpture, as well as reviews of computer hardware and games was part and parcel of my job as a newspaper lifestyle journalist in the 1990s.