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WALASSE TING (1929-2010)
WALASSE TING (1929-2010)

Etre rouge

WALASSE TING (1929-2010)
Etre rouge
signed 'Walasse Ting' (upper right); signed 'WALASSE TING 1956' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
97 x 82 cm. (38 3/16 x 32 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1956
Private Collection, Europe

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Lot Essay

In the late 1950s, Walasse Ting moved to New York where he became associated with second generation abstract artists such as Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis. Ting became an active figure in the New York art community as an abstract painter until 1970s, when he began to paint the colorful female figures that are now synonymous with his name. In an interview about the late 1950s New York art scene, the famous Pop Art dealer, Ivan Karp, said: "We showed energetic painters of the period. I remember [Walasse] Ting was a favourite of mine. He seemed like an important second generation abstract expressionist. We were all caught up in very emotional art at that time. Karel Appel showed there then. And some Japanese artists, very decorative and elegant." Before this fruitful period in New York, however, Ting had spent the beginning of his career abroad in Paris, where he befriended European artists Pierre Alechinsky, Asger Jorn, Karel Appel and other members of the avant-garde CoBrA Group. The CoBrA Group, founded in 1948, was primarily concerned with freedom of color and form, creating semi-abstract art with violent brushwork and vibrant colours, deriving inspiration in large from children's art and primitive art. Karel Appel and Asger Jorn, for example, frequently painted distorted figures and animals in their work (figs. 1 & 2). While the group officially disbanded in 1951, the members continued to work closely together, contributing greatly to the developments of broader Art Informel movement. The artistic exchanges that Ting encountered in Paris during these formative years doubtlessly impacted his work, and his paintings from this time give us a glimpse into his early fascination with the figure that would come back in full force as central a theme in his later work.

In Etre Rouge , painted in 1956, Walasse Ting renders a cat-like creature in brisk strokes of vibrant red paint, scattered with slashes of purple, blue, white and black. The looming figure spans the height of the canvas with frantic gestures covering the entire surface, creating a dynamic, expressive image that reverberates with the energy of the artist. The immediacy and gestural quality of the image points to the automatism with which Ting approached his canvases during this period. In a 1959 excerpt from his notebook Ting wrote, "Handle the brush and forget about it and make the picture and forget about it. Rather allow the painting come by itself than search for it. Without ideas is better than with them. Those who have mastered the art of painting paint with their hearts instead of hands. The heart is not just there, it is all over the body. Painting moves by liveliness while man lives by moment." Ting saw painting as a physical expression of the unconscious, an outpouring of the heart, which can be seen in the raw, expressionistic brush marks that threaten to deconstruct the cat in Etre Rouge. Karel Appel's Little Angry Blue Cat (fig. 1) and Asger Jorn's Falbo II (fig. 2) similarly depict distorted beasts; these violently rendered images appear to be born from internal conflict. A similar brutish imagery and vivid palette can be seen in Ting's Rue Saint Denis (fig. 3), in which snarling heads are imposed upon a classical painting of a female nude. While Etre Rouge is equally impactful, the image nonetheless retains the whimsical, playful quality that is characteristic of Ting's work.

The wide-eyed cat waves its hand above its exaggeratedly round torso, calling to mind the stance of an innocuous fortune cat figurine (fig. 5). While cats, as well as figures, birds, and flowers, feature prominently in Ting's later work (fig. 4), the present lot is a rare example of the cat as subject in his early works. Ting wrote: "To paint a man and turn it into a dragon, to paint a dragon and turn it into a tiger, to paint a tiger and turn it into a fish, to paint a fish and turn it into a bird, and to paint a bird and finally turn it into a man againK A picture eight thousand miles long is worse than that only three feet deep." This excerpt from the artist's notebook captures not only his affection for animal subjects, but also the interchangeability between the human figure and that of another creature-to Ting they are all abstract vehicles of self-expression. As Ting wrote, "To be near water to know the nature of fish, to be near mountain to know the song of birds, and to be near painting to know the nature of the artist." Gazing upon Etre Rouge-an image filled with vigor, passion and charm-is to glimpse the artist's own vitality, and to know his passionate and charming nature. The present lot gives us a rare glimpse into the early phases of Ting's experimentalism and the strides he took to arrive at the vibrant and expressive style of his iconic later work.

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