It is generally known that Picasso’s paintings have exerted a great influence on the modern world, as have Oriental paintings. Ting Shao Kuang, a prominent contemporary Chinese painter in America, has produced works characterized by a combination of traditional Chinese painting techniques and the more expressive Western art forms. He has created a unique style that does not belong exclusively to the East or the West, but to the world.
Ting Shao Kuang was born in Chenggu, a village located in the Northern province of Shanxi, China in 1939. The year Ting was born, this area, which once was the center of an advanced civilization, was reeling from the ravages of the Sino-Japanese war. But as the war progressed, Ting’s father, a Kuomintang official in Beijing, helped rally the Nationalist forces, and the Japanese Imperial Army was eventually defeated.
Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army took over the government of China only two years after the war, forcing Ting’s parents to flee to Taiwan. They left Ting in Beijing with his grandparents who were suffering immensely from the poverty that was inflicted upon them by the Government.
In order to survive his loneliness and alienation, Ting turned to painting for solace. By age 11, he was painting every day, using cooking oil as a medium for his pigment. Despite his lack of adequate supplies, he evidenced such remarkable talent that, in 1954, he was given the opportunity to attend the prestigious high school affiliated with the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
In 1957, Ting was accepted at Beijing’s Central Academy of Arts and Crafts. Although he was taught “Socialist Realism” in his classes, it was during this time that he discovered the works of Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani. The paintings of these artists inspired him to experiment with new themes and techniques.
The summer before he began his senior year, Ting went to the Yellow River to paint the birthplace of Chinese civilization. However, when he arrived he found such misery and poverty, due to the disastrous Great Leap Forward, that he returned to Beijing. Because of the impact his trip had on him, he committed himself to painting only the beautiful side of life.
After graduating in 1962 with highest honors, Ting was signed to teach at the Yunnan Art Institute in Kunming. Here he painted during the night in an abstract style that was considered unacceptable by the government. This forced him to burn his paintings each morning to avoid being caught by the authorities.
Although the people in Kunming had more freedom than Ting had ever known, his modernistic views still managed to come to the attention of the authorities. As a result, in 1967, he was suspended from his job and, when rumors of his impending imprisonment reached Kunming, he escaped into northern China. He found sanctuary in the Buddhist monasteries of Gansu where he studied the ancient sculptures they contained. Later he went to Dunhuang , an ancient caravan stop of the Silk Route from 4th to the 13th century, where he studied the paintings preserved on the walls and ceilings of over four hundred caves.
In 1968, Ting felt it was safe to return to Kunming even though it was mandatory to attend political meetings and it was still impossible for him to teach. By that time, however, there were four other artists there who shared his artistic views. After Mao died in 1976 and art classes finally resumed, the friendship that began in secret slowly began to surface. In 1979, these artists formed the Yunnan Shen She Art Association and, three years later, they exhibited at the First International Art Show in Hong Kong. In the same year, Ting was commissioned to paint a mural in the Great Hall of the People, which was an extraordinary honor for any artist, especially one who was considered to be an outsider, philosophically.
Living in the United States since 1980, Ting Shao Kuang has had more than one hundred personal exhibitions in America, Japan, Canada, Greece, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has become a force in the international art world.
Ting’s purposeful marriage of ancient art customs, masterful brush strokes, and calligraphic lines, mixed with the starkness and beauty of modernism, have made his works some of the most recognizable in the world. He is considered a world-renowned leader of the Yunnan School by the American art critic Douglas Finly. Japanese art critic Murobushi thinks him an exceptionally authentic Chinese artist, and French art critic Andre Parinaud once commented that “His art has a timeless exuberance, and its exultation of love has turned him into a 20th century Giotto.”