Ding Shaoguang (widely known as Ting Shao Kuang in the West), the 79-year-old Chinese-American painter, has achieved quite a lot over the decades: founding the Yunnan school of painting, establishing himself as a world-renowned heavy-color painting artist and earning a reputation that has made him one of the most influential Chinese artists of today.
His artworks have also made him a well-known name in auction circles. In 1992, for example, his White Nights sold for HK$2.2 million ($281,796) at a Christie’s auction, breaking the then record for the highest auction price for an artwork from a living Chinese artist.
Yet, along with praise there has also been criticism, such as accusations that his works have become too commercial.
On June 29, Tsinghua University Press celebrated the release of a new Chinese biography about Ding titled Tiantangniao (Bird of Paradise) with a small ceremony in Beijing. After the ceremony, Ding took the time to sit down with the Global Times to share his thoughts on art and respond to criticism of his work.
Ding has always walked a slightly different path than other Chinese artists.
Although he received a traditional Chinese art education while growing up in Beijing, he rebelled against traditional styles during his teenage years.
At age 23, he moved to Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, where he taught at the Yunnan Arts University. Always looking for something new, Ding was greatly influenced by the local scenery as well as the art of the province’s many ethnic groups during his time there.
Although the artist is now in his late 70s, he still tries to keep up with the latest trends in the art world, while constantly seeking ways to innovate.
One of the artist’s latest works is a giant glass mural of a rainforest – Tree of Soul. Located in the Shanghai Culture Square, it was made from 300,000 small pieces of glass glued to a large pane of glass.
The work shows off the bright and vibrant characteristics of Ding’s heavy-color focused Yunnan school, but looks more like a giant stained glass window.
Ding said that compared to traditional paints, glass provides a wider number of options such as using transparent, semi-transparent and non-transparent glass. Colors are more varied as well since glass can come in up to 2,000 different shades, while most paints only provide about 200 shades.
It’s clear from this work that Ding values being able to push the boundaries of creativity, especially by using different materials.
It is for this reason that Ding has advocated that art education should put more emphasis on fostering creativity and originality instead of just focusing on technical proficiency.
According to the artist, technique and creativity supplement each other. He noted that this is why he feels crossover art is inevitable in today’s technologically advanced world.
“We need to study how the latest technology can be used to enhance art’s visual impact,” Ding said.
Ding cited music as an example. He explained that while modern music has a wider range than ever with the advance of electronic music, “they can never replace the creativity that Beethoven possessed.”
However, he also pointed out that “Beethoven represented the use of the latest technology of his time period as well. So, it is also foolish for modern artists to ignore new technology.”
When Ding first arrived in the US during the 1980s, few galleries were willing to show his artworks. But now he is widely recognized as one of the most successful Chinese artists in the world.
Yet, as the market value of his works have increased, so has criticism that he has become too commercial.
Ding admitted that he has struggled with his relationship with the art market.
He told the Global Times that during his early days in the US, he was very upset that he couldn’t sell his paintings, so when his works finally started to sell, the allure of commercial success was very strong.
“I was not able to afford rent or a taxi to my mother’s place. Later I told myself I would stop catering to the market and focus on art after I made $1 million. When I reached that though, I didn’t keep that promise to myself. I changed my new goal to $5 million, but I failed to live up to that goal as well,” Ding recalled. “The allure of money is very great for many artists.”
Things eventually changed for Ding.
“For a time, I was holding 40 exhibitions a year. Sometimes one during the day and another in the evening,” Ding said. “It was very boring and meant I couldn’t paint what I wanted.”
In 2011, he sold his villa in Beverly Hills and started to buy his work back from galleries.
He said his current goal is to be spiritually well-off rather than materially rich.
According to Zhang Lihong, a senior editor at Tsinghua University Press, it took almost 10 years for author Hu Jia to write and another three years for a team led by Wang Hongwei, an associate professor at the Academy of Arts & Design at Tsinghua University, to design the 365-page biography that sells for 680 yuan ($100).
“Famous artist Marcel Duchamp once said that ‘I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.’ I have read many biographies about artists such as Pollock, Van Gogh, Dali and others. I feel that biographies that truly capture an artist’s experiences are very rare,” Zhang said, going on to explain that the book will emphasize Ding’s life experiences.
This is not the first biography about Ding.
In 1998, an English biography titled Painting Paradise: The Art of Ting Shao Kuang by Ann Wicks was published by China Books & Periodicals, while Chinese biography Ding Shaoguang: Life and Art was published by the Yunnan People’s Publishing House in 2001. — (Global Times)
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The 68th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.
— The Daily Mail - People's Daily