I Love Summer Long

I Love Summer Long
signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'Walasse ting I Love Summer Long 4 July 1994, Amsterdam' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
210 x 475 cm. (82 5/8 x 187 in.)
Painted 1994
Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist by the present owner)

Brought to you by

Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

“When the [classical Chinese] masters painted leaves and grass, they made us feel (and nearly see) the air between them. In the pictures of Ting, too, we can breathe the air between thousands of colors which become buds and leaves, become clouds, rain, become summer, meadows, and all that is joy.”
- Leon Arkus in Fresh Air School. Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, and Walasse Ting (exhibition catalogue Pittsburg, PA, Carnagie Museum of Art, 1972) n.p.

From the earliest stages of his career, Walasse Ting’s paintings have captivated viewers with their electric colors and effervescent spirit. A polymath in his creative output, beyond painting, Ting produced numerous lithographs, books, and poems throughout his life, all of which serve as evidence that his unique creative vision was not simply a blending Eastern and Western aesthetics, but transcendent of any single artistic label or movement. With infectious enthusiasm and wry humor, Ting created vibrant world in his paintings populated by his three great loves—women, flowers, and food, which remained constant elements in his work throughout his career.

Born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province 1928 and raised in Shanghai, Walasse Ting described a childhood of painting on sidewalks. While he briefly studied at the Shanghai Art Academy, he largely considered himself to be self-taught. After Ting left China in 1946, he lived briefly in Hong Kong before immigrating to France in 1952 where he befriended members of the avantgarde CoBrA Group, most notably Pierre Alechinsky and Asger Jorn. In 1958, he moved to New York, participating in the Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism movement where his closest associates were artists Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, members of the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters. While deeply influenced by each of these groups, Ting never found himself fitting into just one circle.

In the mid-twentieth century, when Greenwich Village was the creative hub of the New York School, the proximity and frequent exchange between artists opened dialogues, resulting in a creative synergy that fueled a modern urban renaissance. It was in this setting that Ting began to make use of bright colors in his work, creating thickly layered and energetic abstract compositions reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, as if they had been in a day-glo palette with a distinctly Eastern off-center sensibility toward negative space.

After a 15-year exploration of abstract painting in this environment, Ting's interest in the body and his exploration of sexuality led him back to figuration in the 1970's. Reevaluating the notion of the female body, Ting's work became even more subjective, personal, and radical in its expression of emotion through the vehicle of figurative imagery. From 1973 to 1977, Ting focused on representing nudes in suggestive poses, responding to sexual desire through his art. He transferred his inner emotions into expressive brushstrokes to capture these alluring beauties against the riot of vibrant acrylic colors that composed these dreamscapes of sensual pleasure.

While his interest in painting beautiful women never subsided, during the 1990s the black outlines Ting had used in earlier years to delineate his figures started to fade. Instead he began to simply use saturated planes of bright colors to separate forms. Painted in July of 1994, Ting’s monumentally scaled masterpiece I love summer long (Lot 72) is the largest work on canvas ever to be presented at auction. Here, the artist has tempered the explicit sexual imagery of his earlier compositions, instead depciting a group of six coquettish women reveling around an impressive luncheon spread, calling to mind Manet’s Déjeuner sur l'herbe or Cézanne’s The Luncheon on the Grass. Unlike Manet’s nude women or Ting’s own iconic odalisques of earlier years, the women depicted here are rendered with flat planes of vibrant colour and simplified lines, coyly peering out from behind bouquets and blossoms, so the viewer is unable to tell how much their loosely draped robes conceal or reveal. The women recall Tang Dynasty beauties, each wearing an ornate hairpiece with an expression defined by simplified, colorful strokes so that rouged cheeks, shadowed eyes, and painted cherry lips appear almost like flower petals themselves. The closely intertwined relationship between women and flowers is an ongoing theme within Ting’s visual lexicon. He once said:

“When I see a beautiful woman [and] I see flowers, its beauty makes me feel intangible, melancholy, love, refreshed, different, and reborn.”

Ting was well known for being an enthusiastic gourmand and undoubtedly took great pleasure in painting the elegant yellow teaware, decadent finger-cakes, platter of cherries, scattered peaches, and, of course, the mouthwatering slice of watermelon in the women’s picnic. A small tank of fish and cage of parrots, frequent elements within Ting’s later work, accompany the ladies as they gaze longingly at the treats and myriad bouquets of blossoms laid out before them.

While the washes of fluorescent color Ting uses still glow joyously, the exuberance of Ting’s spirit has shifted. Raw eroticism is forgotten, replaced instead with a sense of nostalgia for the warm memories of a relaxed summer afternoon. At this point in his life, Ting had been living and painting part-time in Amsterdam for nearly seven years, having made the move with his children while still mourning the death of his wife Natalie four years prior. It is easy to see how these events, as well as the artist’s awareness of his own aging, may have contributed to this matured outlook.

Also, missing from this work is a tantalizingly proactive title, which had characterized Ting’s earlier paintings. While several works from the 1960s through 1980s are titled using playful double entendre on the word Spring, here the title of the work—‘I Love Summer Long’— giving the viewer a sense of his yearning to hold on to golden memories, and perhaps even trepidation toward the impending Autumn and inevitable Winter to follow. Ting presents us with a lushly colored vignette of summer, which is teeming with life— and yet, with a poetic sensitivity he seems to be telling the viewer that just like the cut flowers, sweet summer fruits, and even the youthful beauty of his ladies, life is fleeting and beholden to the passage of time.

Spontaneous, exuberant, and entirely unique, Walasse Ting painted like each day could be his last, captivating viewers with his distinct style and bold expressions from the heart. Expansive, yet poignantly composed, I Love Summer Long provides collectors with a rare opportunity, not just to have a window into Walasse Ting’s world, but to be immersed by it.

In 1970, Ting was awarded a fellowship for drawing by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Art (Taipei), the Shanghai Art Museum, the Tate Modern (London), the Centre Pompidou (Paris), and Musée Cernuschi (Paris) which held a retrospective exhibition of his work from 2016 - 2017.

More from Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) / Contemporaries: Voices from East and West (Evening Sale)

View All
View All