For T'ing Yin-yung the most admirable characteristic of art has been its power of simple and direct expression; ergo, he resolutely resisted the many rational considerations in his quest for the simplicity of primitive and pristine art, so that human emotions, as complex as it is, could be expressed in the most succinct way possible. T'ing accorded great importance to Zhu Da, better known as Bada Shanren, whose brushwork and compositions T'ing commended as pithy, capable of conveying the quintessential spirit of painting, endowed with perspicacity ahead of Western Modernism. While delved into the ancient Chinese classical works, T'ing became intrigued by the ancient imperial seals and oracle-bone inscriptions, bronze epigraphs and seal calligraphy. He held that ancient seals could be deemed as primitive drawings, that "the etched, sketched lines have an arcane mystique; the infinite messages and atmospheric verve they contain are nonpareil to other ancient wares." Since mid 1950s he fused a quantity of ancient scripts into his oils, and, by integrating scripts, symbols and images, he produced modern oils which embed sense of refined, majestic antiquity, casting futurity upon an understanding of the past.
Available records indicate that about a hundred items of T'ing's works, mostly dating from 1963 to 1974 exist. Works in the 1950s are particularly rare. After 1956, his oil painting activities virtually came to a halt for six years, and there was notable reduction of oil works when he resumed working in the medium. Mask (Lot 1325), produced in 1955, is definitely a rare oil of T'ing in the 1950s. We will find that the painting is dated "44", a calendric notation advocated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), and that the artist signed "Y. Ting" in cursive English scripts on the canvas. In the early 1960s when T'ing resumed oil painting, the Western notation of time and date was adopted, and his signature became "Y. Y. Ting" in block letters. With the stark contrast between bold colors such as red and blue, Mask manifests the influence of Fauvism. The beige-colored underpainting subtly reveals itself beneath the wash of blue-gray shades, which are in turn submerged by a block of red wash on the right of the composition; an oblique line, drawn at the near bottom, visualizes a tabletop on which a plaster statue of a Classical head sculpture is placed. Assimilating the techniques of Matisse, a representative Fauvist painter, T'ing availed himself of large color blocks and the bold hues to create visual space, improving on the Chinese approach to handling spatial composition by allowing for "blank spaces". On the red blocks are some scratched and scribed outlines of symbols, which, by allowing the bice beneath to rise before our eyes, liberate the primitive culture through modern oils. The smooth, solid black lines render the status in silhouette and segregate the virtual and real space. Through depicting status, itself a simplified human figure, T'ing explored the way of portraying in even purer and simpler manner, blending the status with a mask symbolic of facial features that signifies primitive culture. From his various paintings of Ancient Chinese Beauties in the 1960s to 1970s, we are ready to observe how T'ing, after such constant effort to study facial depiction, simplified the face of woman with its expressiveness intact (Fig. 1). Mask, while epitomizing the unique motif of T'ing Yin-yung's early oil paintings and substantiating his quest for the glamour of primitive art, demonstrate the artist's endeavor to integrate Chinese technique of line drawing and ink painting with Western art. With the virtue of Western painting being elicited to compensate what the Chinese art falls short of, T'ing Yin-yung becomes an inspiration, leading Chinese modern art the way to the future.