Where Will I Awake and Be Sober Tonight?—- about Walasse TING

Translated by Ann Lee from the Taiwan blog “Elsewhere of Elsewhere”

Walasse TING (Xiong-Quan DING) (1929-20120), also name as “Flower Gangster”. It is said that Ting is the only Asian artist who admitted that he enjoys services providing by prostitutes. (I have the impression there are some other Asian artists who claimed that they also enjoy sexual services, but those artist are either not in the field of making sculptures or painting, or aren’t good enough in aesthetics.) Throughout Ting’s life, he was forthright, sincere and generous, and very honest to his own feelings. Ting loved female nudes. He studied figures of female and has reached great achievement. Ting’s <Goya’s Lover> (as follows), Ravenel’s Taipei sold for US$ 0.35 million in December 2006, which is his highest price of artwork ever sold for the time being.


Goya’s Lover, Walasse TING, 127*178 cm, 1977


Ting is renown for his oil and acrylic paintings of female beauties. Take the following artwork for example, <Do You Like Red Roses?> The painting is colorful and full of  vivid rhythm, yet the artist uses joyful composition of sexual sensations to express mental sorrow of a sexual worker. Ting is one-of-the-kind master of art.


Someone has alleged that Ting’s artwork is originated from the Dutch painter, Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), such as Portrait (as follows). Therefore, I particularly did a research of the artist by studying his illustrations.


By drawing color blocks in key spots and putting down few trace lines, Dongen captures the spirit of an elegant lady by a few brushstrokes. As a matter of fact, some touches of Ting (such as the eyes) and the arrangement of Ting’s color blocks are similar to Dongen’s, but they are by no means plagiaries. In the vast universe of Western art, any stroke from anybody may draw association with another stroke from a previous master. Plagiarism must contains identical expression and spirit, or with the same core of thoughts. While initially captivating the audience with “joy” and “ physical sexuality”, Ting’s paintings are memorable for turning his “joy” into “sorrow”, which are absent from Dongen’s artworks. Some has also claimed that Ting’s art is “an art of joy”, nevertheless, I believe “sadness” is the core of his art, similar to the feeling of “singing madly instead of crying in the moment of great sorrow”.


If Ting copies Dongen, does that mean the inner spirit of Ting’s prostitutes resembles Dongen’s elegant ladies? Female readers, please rebut the awful argument for me.

丁雄泉_do you like red roses

Do You Like Red Roses? Walasse TING, 1983


Strictly speaking, Ting’s artworks integrate Kees van Dongen’s art and Jackson Pollock’s drip painting style, then adding a bit of light-hearted mood and sexuality. With so many combinations and variations, in addition to Ting’s vibrant lifestyle of light-hearted mood and sexual sensations, the “core of thoughts” in Ting’s artwork comes from his heart. A+B plus his own core of thoughts resulting in a stronger effect than merely A+B, which is not a simple addition in math at all. To me, Ting’s art is nothing related to copying.


Portrait, Kees van Dongen


A closer look at Ting’s watercolor paintings, Three Parrots (as follows), reveals an lively painting with vivid rhythm composing by colors with similar saturation and variation of different colors of pink. Ting shows viewers that he can surely create interesting paintings without Pollock’s drip painting style.

Ting’s artworks always remind me of the later half of Yong LIU’s lyric poetry, <Rain on Imperial Bell>:

Passionate lovers mourn the sorrow of departure,

As it has always been.

But the chilly autumn brings much bitter grief.

If only I am sober again,

Where will I awake tonight?

Nowhere but the banks of willow trees under a fading moon with morning breeze.

For years to come,

All the good times and grand scenery will be wasted.

Even though I have thousands of love and affection to give,

Who should I share with?

Ting treated his friends with generosity, spent money extravagantly and addicted to women. His personality united with his art as one. Ting is truly a complete artist.


Three Parrots, Walasse TING, 1981


Apart from sensational women and parrots, Ting also explored abstraction, such as the following painting, <Love>. At first, it seems like an abstraction, but looking at the painting in more detail, it is in fact an extremely brilliant figuration depicting oral sex. Color blocks of the painting are arranged in a fairly balanced composition. Three diagonal lines and four blocks compose an interesting picture of sexuality. Ting again reminds us that he understands prostitutes much more than Dongen.

image description

Love , Walasse TING, 1968


There is no trace of copying Western masters in Ting’s art. In Asian art society, it is considered a great artwork as long as the artist speaks his own independent and mature language without plagiarism. If I have to point out any defect of Ting’s artwork, maybe I will say his paintings are quite similar, hence his content is a little bit too simple. Can an artist spend all his life focusing on studying one subject- female nudes? Can female nudes become core of thoughts? Why not? I firmly believe it is an example to prove that Ting is a sincere artist who follows his own heart, so I am more than happy to give him an A as a second rank artist in my list. Although Ting may not be the grand master who shakes art history, he is absolutely a star in his field. Ting is a good example that an artist will certainly reach great achievement as long as he is sincere and honest to his thoughts without copying.


At the moment I was writing this article, Ting was seriously ill and not be able to compose new artworks. (In 2007, a Taiwanese auction house actually deceived the public by spreading fake news about Ting’s death to raise the price of his painting. This auction house is extremely wicked in terms of cherishing precious artists.) Our “Flower Gangster” had such an exceptionally aesthetic life, perhaps he had no regret and would be an extraordinary figure in the afterlife.

Limitation of Unlimited —- about Wou-Ki ZAO


Translated by Ann Lee from the Taiwan blog “Elsewhere of Elsewhere”

Wou-Ki ZAO (1920~2013), was a Chinese-French painter born in Beijing, China. Zao is the second Chinese artist who was elected as a member of l’Academie des Beaux-Arts de France, after Teh-Chun CHU. Zao’s illustrated book records he was born in 1921 while the official French record was 1920, hence we follow the later. Zao’s 14-12-59 (as follows), Christie’s Hong Kong sold for US$ 3.765 million in May 2007. Another artwork of Zao, Hommage à ТU Fu, Christie’s Hong Kong sold for US$ 5.861 million in November 2008.


Wou-Ki ZAO, 14-12-59


Throughout his life, Zao’s artworks can be divided into three styles: the first is “ Paul Klee style”, such as Untitled (as follows). It is fair that critics named him “The Second Tier Paul Klee.” (Please refer to <Forever Childhood —- about Paul Klee>)


Did Zao paint “ Paul Klee style” works before or after he saw Paul Klee’s paintings, or is it simply coincident? In his own words, Zao only saw Paul Klee’s works after he came to Europe. I am not interested in finding out the fact even though I doubt about it, because “who is the copier” is not really the key issue (but it is impossible that Paul Klee ever copied Zao’s art). The most important fact is that “who is better”. If a follower secretly mimicked a senior, but the follower did a better job in the end, the mimic would then became the master whom glorified the art. Since the “ Paul Klee style Zao” is not comparable to Paul Klee, discussion is totally unnecessary here. Viewers can skip Zao and look at Paul Klee’s artworks directly.


Untitled, Wou-Ki ZAO, 1952


The second style of Zao, for example the above-mentioned 14-12-59, which resembles to the art of the great British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), such as Slave Ship (as follows). Taking a piece of Turner’s painting, for example, the bottom left, and compressing a bit, then it becomes the basic of Zao’s second style of abstraction. Elements of Zao and Turner are exactly the same: the flow of wind, air, andwater, from the composition to the core of thoughts, Zao’s second style is completely based on Turner’s art, although Zao has made some variations. (For more examples, please look at Turner’s illustrations).


Please do not take Turner as an ordinary Realist Landscape painter. Turner is in fact the pioneer of abstraction, and Zao can be called as Turner’s follower, a few generations after. I will compose another article regarding Turner’s great artworks later.

Turner_Slave Ship

Slave Ship, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1840


However, it doesn’t mean that Zao did not show any effort. “Compressing the composition” sounds simple, in reality, it may take twenty years of hardworking for a capable painter. It doesn’t mean that Zao had no ambition, either. Zao understood clearly that he could not make history by simply following Paul Klee and Turner, hence he turned to ink oil painting again, which is the third style. Examples are as follows, Hommage à Chu-Yuan, and Hommage à Henri Matisse.


Zao followed Paul Klee and Turner in his early days, but was afraid of honestly analyzing his progress of creation to all collectors. Why doesn’t Zao pay tribute to influential Paul Klee and Turner, but instead to Matisse who is more distant to Zao’s art? (After looking through Zao’s illustrated books, there is no artwork with the title Hommage à Paul Klee or Hommage à Turner). Zao’s attitude of hiding his origin is not frank enough to me, hence I am not comfortable with his creation. I simply can’t open my heart completely to Zao’s artwork as if I did for Sanyu’s.


Hommage à Chu-Yun, Wou-Ki ZAO


Zao extremely dislikes those cultural liars who merely exchange and sell exotic sensations by “painting Chinese ink paintings in Europe, and painting European oil paintings in China.” Zao considers the act is opportunistic and just to please the public, therefore he never bases himself on Europe by using Eastern taste. I understand and totally agree with Zao. Nothing is worse than “selling Eastern taste in the West but selling Western taste in the East, thus to sell cheap Eastern culture.”


Yet, Zao is indeed a Chinese in the first half of his life. If he does not base on Asian taste, does that mean he is going to deny his life in China? What else will be left in his art? The second Paul Klee? Or the second Turner? Ironically, it is the third style, ink oil painting with Eastern taste, which crowns him a privilege status in art.


I agree with Zao on his hatred in being opportunistic, but it is not a reason to conceal cultural background. Zao intentionally hides his Asian background, which is not sincere nor brave.


A master should stands on his cultural origin and moves the whole world. Whether he is in Europe or in Asia, a master always paints his core of thoughts. (Please refer to “Jade of Falling Cities —- about Sanyu”). My answer to Zao’s question will be, “Whether in Europe, China or Taiwan, an Asian artist should stand high in the world basing on Eastern taste. There will be nothing left when an Asian artist gives up Eastern taste.”


Hommage à Henri Matisse, Wou-Ki ZAO


In Zao’s fifty years of aesthetic life, he followed others in the first half period and finally walked on his own way. His third form of art should be our focus to comment on his aesthetic achievement. By putting ink oil painting together with oracle script, Zao’s third form integrates Eastern taste into Western skill, which is more mature than Chung-Hsiang CHAO.  (Please refer to < The Possessed Tentative of Integrating Eastern and Western —- about CHAO Chung-Hsiang> Although Zao’s artworks has not yet reached a degree of complete freedom, they are fine artworks which show Zao’s exceptional ability and accomplishment. Among the three second rank artists in my list, Wou-Ki ZAO, De-Jinn SHIY, and Walasse TING , Shiy is the most sincere artist while Ting is the most creative one, but Zao’s skill, effort and international vision are by all means the best, not to mention that Zao uses international language in painting. My favorite among the three is the most sincere Shiy. (Please refer to “Fifteen Greatest”).


Basically, I admire all artists in my top three tiers, but why am I so critical to Zao? Because I am expecting Zao to the same degree as to Teh-Chun CHU. Zao and Chu graduated from the same art school, both strived in France and are equally remarkably talented, but Zao is not a first tier artist in the world art history because he followed too many artists.


“Wuo Ki” is originally the ultimate concept that the Chinese philosopher, Laozu, used to name “Tao”, which means the fundamental nature of the universe. It is the unlimited origin with no beginning and no end, a even more primitive stage than “Tai Chi”. “Tao” of Laozu is a philosophical search, and the relationship between philosophy, art and religion has been a major topic of research in modern humanities. It is no doubt that philosophy is embraced in art, and modern art critics also bring up the idea that “art is religion”. President of Peking University, Yuan-Pei CAI, once advocated to replace religion with aesthetic education. (What an excellent suggestion!) Regardless of the relationship between philosophy, art and religion, the three all seek for “Tao”. Since Zao named himself “Wuo-Ki”, he must had very high expectation of himself. Considering Zao’s international background and reputation, he may be expected by the entire Chinese society. However, when we astonish at the name and start to explore “ Wuo-Ki”, we somehow realize the limitation of an unlimited.



Why Not Return Home, Beautiful Phoenix? —- about Teh-Chun CHU

Translated by Ann Lee from the Taiwan blog “Elsewhere of Elsewhere”
Teh-Chun CHU (1920~) was born in China, temporarily taught in Taiwan for six years, mainly works in France. Chu was the first Chinese artist who was elected as a member of l’Academie des Beaux-Arts de France. Rouge, La Pluie de Petales sur le Village, Blanc, le Nuage Au-Dessus de la Maison (as follows), Christie’s Hong Kong sold for about US$ 3.2 million in May 2006. This year (2008), from September 19th, National Museum of History, Taiwan, will hold a two-month sole exhibition, Teh-Chun CHU 88 Retrospective. We salut to and wish the exhibition a great success.

Rouge, la pluie de petales sur le village. Blanc, le nuage au-dessus de la maison, Teh-Chun CHU  130*195cm  1960
The artist used rich colors to depict lively rhythm of light in the above-mentioned painting, which integrated stick and block-like color of Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955) into strong flow of Chinese calligraphy. The straightforward composition of this master piece has reached a perfect balance. At my first time looking at Chu’s works, I was positive that his art was related to Staël. Later on, I was very glad to prove my assumption by reading Chu’s own words from his album, saying that Staël’s art was so influential that Chu decided to turn to abstraction from figuration. I will compose another article regarding Staël’s artwork which I deeply love.
Chu composed a few figurative paintings in his early days, then turn to exploring abstraction, such as follows, La Source, 1965. Its composition was based on traditional Chinese painting. The flow of space was expressed by colors, but calligraphy in the bottom half was slightly unnatural, which was further developed in later days.
Chu once said, “The renown Chinese painter, Kuan FAN, has mentioned “A Master’s Mind,” meaning an artwork is an expression of the artist’s imagination, personality and accomplishment.” “A Master’s Mind” is in fact “Abstraction”, only at that time our ancestors didn’t use the word “abstraction.” It is fair to say that La Source is actually the abstract form of Fan’s famous work, Travellers among Mountains and Streams.

Since Chu named this work La Source, it was very obvious that the artist made a statement about the origin of his culture. It was a statement of the start point of his aesthetic exploration, where his art originally came from. Even though it was still a bit awkward at that point, by reason of the momentum was constrained by the composition. Soon afterwards, due to Chu’s effort and talent, he promptly reached maturity and walked on the road to a great artist, independently.

La Source  Teh-Chun CHU 1965

Da-Yu WU, teacher of Chu, has said, “Painting requires sincereness and fullness. Do not show off or try to impress people. During your six-year at college, it is enough if you can paint one complete work.” These words became Chu’s mottos for life, and sincereness grew into the soul of his artwork. Transparence Glacier (as follows), which is a composition based on traditional Chinese painting, and Chu showed us the rhythm between light and dark colors, as well as the drip similar to “catkin floating and swirling in the wind”, not simply “throwing salt into the sky.” We viewer can easily senses the transparence of the fragile, cold air by looking at this painting. If you look at this painting at the hottest summer time in complete silence, you may feel falling into a freezing ice world. It may be quite economical since air condition is not necessary anymore.

Transparence Glacier  Teh-Chun CHU  1987

Then it comes to Pureté Originelle (as follows). Chu has got rid of the composition of traditional Chinese paintings, and calligraphy has integrated into the work completely. Colors come forward to us with rhythm. The work is both complete and smooth, soulful and humble. Real and unreal elements resonate with each other in harmony. In the beginning, spirit arises from for its appearance, but with the spirit, the appearance is then forgotten. In the end, both spirit and appearance disappear, everything is left but Pureté Originelle, resulting an abstract oil painting with an Eastern soul.

Pureté Originelle Teh-Chun CHU 1997
Chu’s mastery at the cross roads of abstractive mind and figurative emotion is shown in Emotion Suggérée (as follows). The artwork perfectly links Eastern mind, Western abstract skill, Chinese calligraphy and ink painting, creating a powerful, brand new personal language. Tradition lives vividly in creation, and Chu himself has become a grand tradition, who stands side by side with all great Western masters.
Emotion Suggérée shows the essence of emotion, the very natural stage, on the instant of our heartbeats, not the conclusion resulting from outside influences. Whether it is a comedy or tragedy? Perhaps it is too late by the time we realize the sensation.

Comparing Chu’s own powerful calligraphy, moving ink paintings and oil paintings, it is obvious to tell his profound aesthetics, grand accomplishment, and solid standing. Except great wisdom, aesthetics can never be reached, which is the only road to perfection. Only when artists truly understand the tradition can they create and innovate; only when they do not hide their own origin can they shine powerful strength from their core.

Emotion Suggérée  Teh-Chun CHU 1998
If we compare Chu to Sanyu, Sanyu has no such strong will of creation. Sanyu is a born-to-be, natural artist, while Chu is a master of art. They are both top tier artists, but Chu carries heavier burden of mission and sense of history. Guan-Zhong WU and Chu are both in my A+ list, so I will skip comparing the two.
In fact, to acquire aesthetic taste and to make fair critic, we need to be able to tell the minor differences between A+ artists, however, at this moment, Asian art is still in a chaos stage where running horses and milking cows are commingling in the same ranch. Our first step of work is to label these horses from cows, than we will be able to discuss who is indeed the racing horse running in the speed of light.

Chu’s art is an amazing, sacred mountain with no fault to pick, but I have a question nothing related to art: In ancient China, Confucius wished some kings would apply his philosophy to rule the people, hence he wondered and suffered in different kingdoms.  Confucius was expelled by King LU, his footprints were extinguished by King WEI, insulted by King SONG, no way to go at Kingdom SHANG and CHOU, and suffered famine at Kingdom CHEN and TSAI.  For all these humiliations and difficulties, did Confucius merely pursue for a Prime Minister of a kingdom?  Chu’s life is somehow similar to Confucius’, since Chu left his homeland for decades, encountered many difficulties and finally became the first Asian artist of l’Academie des Beaux-Arts de France. Even Confucius once sighed that he should come back to guide his talented fellowmen pupils at hometown.  Why don’t the beautiful phoenix return Greater China to devote himself for education?  Holding exhibitions in Taiwan is surely not enough. The Asian art society, whether in Taiwan or in China, urgently need Chu’s teaching and advice. Of course, the art society in today’s Asia is incredibly poor, but that is why we desperately need a beautiful phoenix like Chu return his hometown.

Top of the World —- about Guan-Zhong WU

Translated by Ann Lee from the Taiwan blog “Elsewhere of Elsewhere”

Guan-Zhong Wu was born in Yixing, Jiangsu, in 1919. He is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary Chinese painters of all-time. Recently, the price of Wu’s works have kept breaking their own records. For the time being, the highest is the following piece, The Ancient City of Jiaohe, sold for a record of USD 4.8 million at Poly Auction in Beijing in May, 2007. Wu devoted his entire life for art. The artist has no doubt in running his own life for the love of art. He deserved all the recognition finally rewarded to him in his old age.

The Ancient City of Jiaohe, Guan-Zhong WU  1981  102*106cm
(Traditional Chinese Painting)
“How to integrate the aesthetic of the traditional Chinese painting and western art” is in fact the core question of contemporary Chinese art. Some artists would hold their ground to the Chinese tradition, some would search for integration, and some would rather adopt the West entirely. To those who search for integration, there is a further question that whether the East or the West should be the content or style of the work. Although I have studied more than 150 albums of traditional Chinese painting, I am no expert in the field and can not make good comments yet. I am learning the art and hope that one day will be able to talk about it.  
Fortunately, Wu belongs to those who search for aesthetic integration. Most masters in this school use western medium or skill, but due to their profound knowledge and understanding in Chinese culture, their works naturally reveal the detail of eastern culture unintentionally. These artworks are usually the master pieces of contemporary Chinese art, hence, it is less meaningful to distinguish the differences between traditional and integration school. Formality is unnecessary to enjoy Wu’s artwork, because his art has reached the point  beyond the West and the East, figurative and abstract art. We viewer can appreciate Wu’s art by our own understanding of Chinese culture and judgment of western paintings. My mind was enlightened when reading Wu’s theory of painting. Although his words have been criticized, I have total faith in his believe and absolutely agree with him that the beauty of art should be appreciated as a whole. Sole element or touch of Chinese ink art has no value.  

The great western art critic, Herbert Read (1893-1968), also said that appreciation of art is an intuition. In that sudden moment, the artwork has exposed everything into deep mind of the viewer. Only people without art intuition will analyze art with a magnifier, or those are men who enjoying the moment of intuition repeatedly. Analysis is the most massive damage to aesthetic beauty, as if there is no peak of enjoyment if we over analyze the peak. My friend blame me that there are too many criticisms and too few compliments. The truth is that I do not need to say a word in front of a master piece. It is quite poor to say how great the artwork is. Someone once asked how excellent Picasso’s art is, and the artist replied, “If you wake up in the morning and hear beautiful bird’s singing, will you ask why bird’s singing is lovely?” Beauty strikes out hearts in the moment we witness it. No further explanation is required. It applies when we enjoy the art of Sanyu, as well as the art of Guan-Zhong Wu. 

Two Swallows, Guan-Zhong WU 1981  70*140cm (Traditional Chinese Painting)
The computer image of Two Swallows given above is connected by two images from left to right, thus the picture turns out to be muddy and artificial. It is better we viewers try to find an album with more precise colors in print. 
We can not avoid talking about the great painter in Qing dynasty, Shi Tao (around (1641-1718) if we are here to appreciate Wu’s artworks. Wu devoted in researching Shi Tao’s “A Dialogue on Drawing” and explained Shi Tao’s thought by saying, “Shi Tao is a painter who focused on his own sensibility, and firmly claimed that drawing is created according to feelings and emotions which vary each time.” The understanding of the abovementioned uncertainty of rules in painting is extremely meaningful in modern art. Many so called contemporary artists do not figure out this point even three hundred years later from Shi Tao’s era.      
Wu applied skills of traditional Chinese painting such as blank-leaving and stroke in Two Swallows, and deleted unnecessary details to echo the beauty of abstract and geometry in western aesthetic view. The composition is extremely simple but strongly expressed Wu’s deep observation and profound love of his motherland. What is real “in love with homeland?” What is “in love with Taiwan?” (Or in Wu’s case, in love with China). Without shouting out empty  slogan loudly, the great artist showed his sincere affection from his artwork in silence.      

In my humble opinion, Two Swallows may reach a higher achievement if it was completed by oil painting, but this is simply excessive demand out of love for your references.

Parrot Paradise, Guan-Zhong WU 1988 (Traditional Chinese Painting)

In Parrot Paradise, the line of ink from traditional Chinese painting is expressed even more freely. The composition of this artwork should be referred to Summertime Number 9A 1948, by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) as follows.

Summertime Number 9A 1948, Jackson Pollock
This is a good example of the difference between creation and plagiarism, which I repeatedly emphasize, “What element is arisen from the inner soul of the artist?” “What element is attached from outside?” Artworks of Wu are definitely originated from his heart.
Although Wu’s The Ancient City of Jiaohe, Parrot Paradise, and Spring Breeze Peach Willow (as follows) all used Pollock’s “drip” technique, Wu’s line and spirit are obviously East, which are completely different from Pollock’s violent and passionate American style. When a real artist stands at some point in the art history, he then embodies all the past, including eastern and western culture (if he has contact with the West), and his creation contains all his cultures and represents his full character. Wu has found himself entirely. Whether he learned from any master along his way to perfection, this is not a question at all. In my eyes, Wu the elderly gracefully embraced traditional Chinese culture. I see no influences of Pollock anymore.

The composition of Parrot Paradise presents joyful, innocent, and exceptional imagination, which is an artwork of a sincere and hardworking genius. The three elements of great art: sincere, talent and hardworking, Wu had them all.

Spring Breeze Peach Willow, Guan-Zhong WU 1999 45*48cm
(Traditional Chinese Painting)
Due to limitation of words, this article only introduces Wu’s four artworks. Three of them are “Pollock” style, and one is “Two Swallows” style. We have not gone though all aspects of his aesthetic of art since we have not yet mentioned Wu’s oil and watercolor paintings. Computer imagines here are not even close to the originals. Hopefully, interested viewers will further research Wu’s work on their own.
It is said that even at the age of 90, Wu continuously created more artworks and wished to transform all his life into art. This is indeed what a real great artist should be. We Chinese have Wu, therefore we have the hope of never being an inferior people.      
2011.9.16 Supplement

Guan-Zhong WU died at the age of 90 in June 2010. The four Chinese masters of art: Ting-Shih CHEN (Taiwan), Sanyu and Teh-Chun CHU (overseas), Guan-Zhong WU (China), only CHU is still alive.

Jade of Falling Cities —- about Sanyu

Translated by Ann Lee from the Taiwan blog “Elsewhere of Elsewhere”
Once upon in ancient China, it is said that a king was willing to trade 15 cities of his kingdom for one piece of precious jade, “Jade of Falling Cities (Jade of Clan HE).” If we calculate the value of the jade into today’s currency, for 15 cities in China, the price must be much more than billion dollars. The term “Jade of Falling Cities” thus means the artifact is indeed the most valuable treasure. The Chinese artist, Sanyu (Yu San) (1901-1966), is definitely the “Jade of Falling Cities” in the world of modern and contemporary art.  

Pink Lotus (as follows), Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold for US$ 3.6 million in April 2006. Later in November of the same year, another work of Sanyu, Potted Flowers in a Blue and White Jardiniere, sold for US$ 3.7 million at Christie’s Hong Kong. Although during Sanyu’s lifetime, the world showed little interest in his paintings, and the artist had a difficult course of life especially during his later years, he finally received his real recognition from collectors 40 years after his death.   

Pink Lotus, Sanyu
The finest aspects of his aesthetics are almost impossible to put into words, and even if we try, they are then never the real finest aspects of the artist. The philosophy is very much like “Zen.” Each of us has to come to realize the beauty of Sanyu by our own senses. No one else but our own hearts could help us understand the works. It is said that we can point our fingers to the moon, but the “finger” is not the moon itself. Even though I try to describe the finest aspects of Sanyu’s artworks in this article, my words are your “fingers” for references only. Please do enjoy Sanyu by looking and reading his artworks on your own.
Sanyu is the master of using western medium (oil painting) to express the taste of a cultural traditional Chinese literati. His aesthetics have reached the level of divinity by perfectly uniting medium and expression, as well as his confident and smooth lines, free and liberal techniques, which bring his works to the level of unique and effortless beauty. Except the medium (oil painting) which is a western material, all other aspects in Sanyu’s painting, the techniques, spirit, and even the subject are absolutely East. His art is full of aesthetics purity unique to East culture, which resembling the novel, Snow Country, by the Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata, or even to a degree that no words can express the profound meanings of Sanyu’s artwork. His art embraces the East and the West, and it is a sole existence in the art history which stands tall in front of any international masters of art.

Nude (as follows) is a perfect example of Sanyu’s skill in mastering the complicated object by performing a simple and smooth touch.

Nude, Sanyu

The piece contains only few strokes, but is far more profound than those complicated works of others. The erotic side of Sanyu involves the humor of eastern culture. If Henri Matisse is so called the musical character of a nude, then Sanyu is definitely the riotous character of a nude. For example, Sanyu’s Four Nudes:

Four Nudes, Sanyu
By repeatedly reducing the lines to the simplicity, Sanyu’s gave his art a spiritual, natural existence. These astonishing lines are comprehensive as well as expressive, as if they are as heavy as a mountain, but also as light as a feather. His art is never artificial, and is able to directly present to the viewers the fundamental quality of his theme. The artist possessed a personal, sincere and original capability of interpretation.y these reasons they are the common characters of all great artists.
Majority of Sanyu’s theme in his painting are female nudes, floral still lifes and animal subjects. Often, some portions of his female nudes and animal subjects are properly deformed for embodying the beauty of lines and rhythm, for example, Girl in Blue Dress with White Dots by Sanyu around 1930s as follows:

Girl in Blue Dress with White Dots, Sanyu
Colors of this painting on a computer screen are slightly off from the original. It is better we viewers try to find the original painting or albums with more precise colors in print. (Of course, it is rather difficult to see the original paintings nowadays. There are many fake paintings in the market.) Finally, here is the last painting of Sanyu, Elephant, in 1966, as follows:

Elephant, Sanyu, 1966
In the year 1966, which is the last year of Sanyu’s life, the artist told his friend that he had started a painting, “I drew the painting, simplified it, and then simplified if again…” “That is a tiny elephant, running in the desert with no boundary…, that is me.” The artist couldn’t find a place to survive in the massive universe, as though he is this little elephant who ran in isolation. Tears were almost bursted out at my first time reading these words: “Exactly, the great artist is indeed this little elephant running in the endless desert. Sorry for such a hard time…”

In that same year, the penniless, handicapped with an injured ankle, Sanyu died in gas leak in his studio, at the age of 65.

Fifteen Greatest

This is a list of the fifteen greatest artists in my mind.  This list only refers to oil paintings, sculpture, and multimedia and does not refer to calligraphy and Chinese ink paintings.  This list is sorted by the year of birth of each artist.  There are three major issues we need to discuss first:

1. Criteria?
The work of art must touch “essential sentiment”.  This is the first criterion.  Only “sentiment” counts in an art work.  A work of art without “sentiment” is meaningless.  The “sentiment”, in its broadest sense, refers to human sensation interacting with everything or every life in the universe.
The second criterion is the creativity should be independently a sect itself.  The third criterion is the profoundity of thoughts.  This is in fact another side of the first criterion because a work of art touching “essential sentiment” would possess the profoundity of thoughts by nature.  The most mysterious part of art lies in the nexus between human rationality and sensibility.  Human rationality is sensibility while human sensibility is rationality.  As Mark Rothko puts it: “Intuition is the highest of rationality, not opposed.”
Among these fifteen greatest artists, Constantin Brancusi and Mark Rothko stay on the top of sculpture and paintings.
2. Why are they all artists born after 1853?
Oil paintings and sculpture are media which exist for more than one thousand years.  Until recent one hundred years, oil paintings and sculpture go mature due to the development of all kinds of sciences, philosophy and the research toward human’s mind.  Thus, contemporary great masters are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Geniuses before Vincent van Gogh were limited by their era.  It is of the same reason that the best regulated verse and quatrains poets appeared around Fu Du’s era in Tang Dynasty.  Regulated verse and quatrains in Tang Dynasty are aesthetically higher than in Song Dynasty.  Regulated verse and quatrains went mature and reached their summits in Tang Dynasty.  I predict that it will be hard to find an oil painting or sculpture artist better than the fifteen greatest in the future because so many new media (other than oil painting and sculpture) attracted the attention of newborn creativity.
3. Who is better?  Yu SAN or Picasso?
Before, I commented that “Picasso’s aesthetic achievement is higher than Yu SAN, but I love Yu SAN more than Picasso.”  After writing this blog for one year, I realized that there can be no aesthetic achievement without “essential sentiment”.  I placed Picasso in rank 16 now because although Picasso possessed excellent creativity and explored various domains of art, Picasso did not put enough sentiments in his works of art.  Many pieces of Picasso’s works lack inner human sentiments.  The overall intuitional impact of Picasso’s works is slightly inferior than the fifteen greatest artists’.
Fifteen greatest artists in the order of the year of birth:
1853-1890 What Price for a Life? Where Can I Find Spiritual Sustenance? —- about Vincent van Gogh 
1869-1954 Research into the Relation Between the God’s Way and Human Affairs —- about Henri Matisse
1876-1957 Creating Everything, Understanding Everything, Explaining Everything —- about Constantin Brancusi
1879-1940 Forever Childhood —- about Paul Klee
1890-1964 A Heaven in a Wild Flower —- about Giorgio Morandi
1901-1966 Let Me Lose You Bit by Bit —- about Alberto Giacometti
1901-1966 Jade of Falling Cities —- about Sanyu
1903-1970 Maybe Better Than Picasso? —- about Mark Rothko
1906-1965 Conducting Nothing and Anticipating Nothing; Responding to It But Does Not Retain It —-about David Smith
1909-1992 Flesh Communicates with Spirit Directly —- about Francis Bacon
1912-1956 Redefining Paintings —- about Jackson Pollock
1914-1955 A Spring of Eight Thousand Years —- about Nicolas de Staël
1915-1991 Sorrow Songs Shatter the Earth —- about Robert Motherwell
1916-2002 Sounds of the Rarity —– about Ting-Shih Chen
1924 ~ Reality Is Not the Reality —- about Anthony Caro

Table of Ranks

Ting-Shih CHEN
Teh-Chun CHU
Guan-Zhong WU
De-Jinn SHIY
Wou-Ki ZAO
Walasse TING
Chi-Ch’un LIAO
Pan-Yuan WANG
Chun-Hsiang CHAO
Yi-Shiung CHANG
Guo-Qiang CAI
Da-Yu WU
Feng-Mian LIN
Huai-Qing WANG
Xiao-Gang ZHANG
Ming JU
Bei-Hong XU
Cheng-Bo CHEN
Chen LI
Guang-Yi WANG
Min-Jun YUE