Throughout his lifetime, T'ing Yin-Yung created work that broke away from convention, dissolving boundaries between Eastern and Western art and demonstrating a mastery of both the ink and the oil medium. He was a lifelong advocate of new artistic styles that could reflect the spirit of the era, and he nurtured young talent as an educator, both of which made him a vital figure in the movement to modernize Chinese art in the 20th century. In T'ing's oil The Lovers (Lot 43), dating from the 1970s, his essentially Chinese brushwork follows no pattern except the demands of expression, and his colors, after the manner of the Fauves, are fresh and brilliant but never garish. Like the lovers in the painting, they embrace and complement each other, conveying just how well this artist fused the East and the West and how he forged his own style with a uniquely personal sense of color.
T'ing traveled to Japan to study at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in the 1920s, devoting himself to study of Western techniques and stylistic movements. Strong trends toward modernization in both China and Japan at that time impelled a group of young artists studying abroad, including T'ing, to emulate the avant-garde innovations of European and American art as the best model for development, but they also continually reexamined and reflected on the history of their own aesthetic traditions. T'ing Yin-Yung loved the European Fauves, but at the same time was greatly influenced by the remarkable early Qing painter Bada Shanren. He found himself creative in the intersection between these two, with a flair for wild color and a brushwork style developed in his own, out of which he created his own distinctive artistic vocabulary.
MAXIMAL EXPRESSION WITH MINIMAL MEANS
T’ing Yin-Yung’s oil paintings are far outnumbered by his ink-on-paper works, although the quality of the oils is in no way inferior; in fact, the energy and technical skill of the oil works lend them a surprising visual power. As a youth, the artist studied in Japan under the sponsorship of the Guangdong provincial government, and in 1921 he was admitted to the prestigious Tokyo School of Fine Arts. It was there that he received rigorous academic training under Professor He Tianying as he studied Western painting, laying the foundation for his mastery of Western theory and methods. The Lovers shows T'ing Yin-Yung embarking on a further and very bold exploration of the Fauvist style. Fearlessly breaking down the restrictions of actual forms and contours, T'ing employs even more freehand brushwork and color contrasts to convey the strong living energy and romantic atmosphere of the work. Two lovers stand in a naked embrace, the man in a fiery, scarlet red, holding the woman at his side in both of his arms, his expression simplified until only a single vertical eye and a set of smiling lips remain. But that eye and those lips, caught up and changed by the joy of love, express most powerfully the life of the painting's subjects. These images of the lovers, imbued with a sense of their deep moods, reach out to capture the viewer's heart with the same infectious charm as the couple gazing from the painting by Chagall (Fig. 1).
DIALOGUES PRODUCED BY DIFFERENCE AND CONTRAST
By contrast with the scarlet red of the male, the body of the woman at the right, in yellow ochre, seems to symbolize a kind of acceptance and life force connected with the Earth. Turning to the side to gaze at her lover, her eyes are filled with a moving expression of love. Red and yellow occupy the greater part of the canvas, but the collision of these contrasting colors is softened by their interweaving, as the lovers themselves embrace and their limbs intertwine. The artist adds cerulean blue at the far left of the canvas in almost reckless strokes, bringing together the three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue for a lively, rhythmic movement that plays off against the black lines that dart through the center. The effect this creates highlights the variations in depth within the canvas, while also heightening the importance of line. Matisse too, in the latter part of his career, took great care with the outlines he painted in black, using them to order the exuberant color in his paintings. The existence of
these outlines removes the painted scene from a three-dimensional framework, and in fact liberates the artist to use even greater freedom in the application of color. In using this technique, T'ing Yin-Yung simplifies his black lines to a minimum, allowing him to directly juxtapose and contrast his brilliant, saturated colors to the greatest extent possible.
A PRIMITIVE ANCIENT SEAL IN OILS
T'ing Yin-Yung, who dedicated himself to merging Eastern and Western art, began to study the art of seal cutting in 1960. It was a lifelong interest of which he never tired, and he found special pleasure in imitating ancient imperial seals. His seals have been praised as “simply formed characters, rich in meaning; his lines strong like bent iron, not like polished steel.” His deep understanding of the art is illustrated by the seal he inscribes at the upper left of his painting (the artist sometimes used the name “T'ing Hong” in such seals). The pictographic character “T'ing” is represented by a steel nail; “Hong” (“goose”) is replaced by the simpler character for “bird” (Fig. 2, 3). With just a few simple strokes, T'ing recreates the fluid lines of ancient imperial seals and adds their rich, ancient feeling to his canvas. The Taiwanese seal-cutting authority Wang Beiyue, describing T'ing Yin-Yung's seal carving, says, "He captures both the shape and the spirit of the ancient seals. His brush lines are simplified to just the right extent, filling them with a vivid sense of the ancient style. No one but a great painter like T'ing could accomplish this."
A CHARMED BRUSH CAPTURES CHARMING FIGURES
Painting in oil on a wooden panel highlights the marks of the artist's brush, resulting in an even more vivid presentation of the strong, fluid lines of T'ing's The Lovers, which he completed in a single sitting. There is no overlapping or layering of colors in The Lovers, which instead is spotted with unpainted white spaces. The artist clearly envisioned the entire sweep of any stroke before setting brush to canvas, which gives this work its strong aura of Chinese ink-wash painting (Fig. 4). In particular, in the arms of the figure in red and in the flying hair of the woman, both completed in one motion, we see the strong application of a dry brush producing the same white-streaked lines commonly seen in calligraphy. The effect compares well with the ease and control of brushwork by Bada Shanren (Fig. 5). T'ing applies the oils more thickly in the breasts and abdomen of the woman's figure, revealing in this area the influence of his Western education in art. The two traditions in fact join perfectly here in the oil medium, as the figures and expressions of his subjects take shape in the free play and sweeping turns of his brush. T'ing Yin-Yung, describing his philosophy behind the creative approach, often said, "I would really like to use the lines and ink effects of Chinese painting in Western oils." The Lovers allows us to appreciate T'ing's great success in exploring this approach. The ease and verve of his calligraphic lines combine with the intense and brilliant colors of the Fauves, revealing his fusion of Eastern and Western styles, and even more, his own easy command as a painter and his creative freedom from predetermined stylistic demands.