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In earlier work, her embodied awareness translated into stylized yet emphatically physical figures that convey states of mind or being. Distortions or exaggerations accentuate sensing, feeling, and knowing through the body, with emphasized hands and feet denoting a capacity for extension and for inhabiting space. After Ting stopped dancing, she let go of these surrogates and developed nonobjective imagery and a one-on-one relationship with her canvases. Guided by experimentation in collage-inspired monotypes, she created rhythmic contours, cutout-like forms, and indeterminate, fluctuating spaces. In these animated configurations, color puts everything in motion, as hues and values come forth, recede, jostle, or resist.
Before long, Ting was highlighting the contingent and unstable qualities within the interplay of forms. Rather than fanciful scenarios, she created patterns of curving, undulating planes and bands of color that appear to unfold in an ongoing cycle or continuous flow. In Chinese opera, nuances of movement are based on the principle of roundness in which angles and straight lines are avoided; this quality now permeates her graceful curvilinear paths and resulting shapes —not movement in space but movement as space. Enhancing the interrelational, Ting creates dynamic systems that seem to behave and organize according to the generative mechanisms of our physical universe and of living organisms, of big bangs and flocking birds. The viewer empathically feels expansion within the welcoming void well beyond the rectangular dimensions of the painting.
In the late 80s, Ting established a residence in Taos, New Mexico. Having lived in high-density urban areas, this town situated between the Rio Grande Rift and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains came as a revelation, one she describes as “an out-of-body experience.” At home in the sweeping landscape bathed in a piercing, ever-shifting light, she awakened to the clarity of lines and shapes within seemingly boundless vistas. Already tending toward a minimalist aesthetic, Ting increasingly distilled her compositions to be sparer and more hard-edged. Having worked with mottled backgrounds, she transitioned to unified flatness that accommodates various permutations between positive and negative space, depth and surface, in what philosopher Suzanne Langer might have called “the familiar illusive pattern of sentience.”
Lithesome and tensile lines would simply skitter across the picture plane but for the artist’s considered selection of hue and value. Color is the ingredient that adds dimensional complexity and disequilibrium, as the viewer seeks coherence and harmony from the counterbalancing tonal weights and temperatures. Laying in paint, Ting changes her original design to become more mutable and open-ended. Rather than provide fixed parameters, firm contours concentrate and intensify each color and its effect. Ting adroitly determines the proportion and acrylic pigment of each component to activate a constant visual reshuffling, such that one reading supersedes the next. Chromatic interactions create the illusion of overlay and translucence, but individual color forms can also be seen as opaque, and the swing from one to the other — along with the bounce to and from positive and negative space — engenders a feeling of perpetual motion or passage from one set of conditions to another.
To achieve this pictorial range of motion, Ting accesses her advanced understanding of theory, but the fullness of color in her paintings exceeds any exercise in situation and correlation.
Informed by her transcultural perspective, she has a captivating palette from which she devises striking combinations and arrangements, coaxing unexpected results from a frugal number of carefully prepared pigments. Ting’s astute choices come not solely from their position on the color wheel, and her inspired teaming of shades sets off the sumptuousness and vibrancy of each — as if seen for the first time. No hue plays a secondary or supportive role, which encourages the visual flux. Rather than look upon gray as neutral or drab, Ting prizes the hue for its resonance with the entire spectrum and lets it holds its own next to maroon or crimson. Often her imagination masquerades as logic, and the viewer accepts a vibrant pink seemingly produced by yellow and mint green transecting bands. Relying on the pure sensation of color rather than association, she imparts poetic feeling into her inexhaustible compositions. The reciprocity of plotting precision and delicious arbitrariness melds measure and intuition, bringing order to our entanglement with the world.
There is both a subtle energy and a deep sense of longing in the recent acrylic works that make up her compact exhibition entitled Tangles and Ties. The energy of a good many of her abstract works resides in her flowing, intersecting lines that remind one of the lyrical qualities found within the last works of Willem de Kooning. The energy of Chen Ting’s figurative painting, from a decade ago, is suggested by the lugubrious movement of the body in space and the almost pastel quality of her colors.
At first glance, the lines appear to be random, as if the artist is playing with the long thin forms of the line, trying to work out how they should play across the surface of the painting until they trail off the edges of the picture plane. But as one continues to look at the rhythm the artist has created, one realizes that there is nothing random here, that the artist has in fact taken control of the lines as she has with her emotions.
The control is seemingly effortless but he thickness of her lines and the colors that she employs in her Tangles and Ties series (2006), for example, emphasizes a studied and careful geometry. Lines and space meet harmoniously within the mostly monochromatic backgrounds also help to emphasize space and suggest the kind of emptiness that one feels in a time of emotional turmoil.
In Chen Ting’s recent Confetto series (2008), the line has given way to blocks and layers of bright color. In the layering there is a sense of organic forms moving together in search of unity, yet never quite achieving it. Still there is a sense of pleasure, even joy, in such work. The empty space that was defined by the line in Tangles and Ties is now filled with the energy of activity, and a feeling that passion has won over sadness.
Tangles and Ties is a selection of crisply painted and graphically interpreted narratives of human adventure, based initially on Ting’s observation of the lives of her friends. Our expectations, unexpected obstacles and turns of fortune, our social, psychological and physiological challenges are laid out like a road-map that lacks the logic of topographical causality. There are clogged arteries, detours and misleading shortcuts, and paths that overlap but never intersect. The figure-ground relationship is one of foreground-background, suggesting that we rarely achieve a fully integrated status with the landscape we attempt to navigate.
In some cases, Ting gives a clue as to what that terrain may be through the colors and large shapes that loom behind our trajectory. Some situations seem cold, almost hostile and impenetrable, yet others are warm and earthy. The pathways she paints are pretty smooth, graceful and unmarred by real scarring. In the end, Ting may believe we (her friends) are privileged creatures that, for all our blindness and foolishness, sail off-course frequently but rarely founder completely. She clearly believes in human resilience. Would that this be so for all humanity on earth. It would be nice to see us become one with our ecosystem, heal the earth and our human relations before it is too late.
Dory Hulburt, the Horse Fly, Oct. 15, 2005
Fall Arts Top 10: 3. Mimi Chen Ting: “Southern Comfort”: A female figure transfixed in a doorway; a pyramidal structure—house or cliff; dashes of green suggesting a landscape; a swirl of claret-color rising upward. There was a startling amount of white space in Chen Ting’s crisp mixed-media piece. She provided barely enough cues to trigger the imagination—she left her sky white; she didn’t detail the terrain unifying those green smudges; she didn’t provide a context for the claret ribbon curlicuing into the sky; and she relied solely on form, not expression to suggest the woman’s astonishment. Too little information leaves viewers adrift in meaninglessness. There are canvases everywhere replete with details that sedate the mind. “Southern Comfort” teetered on the brink of too little—breathtakingly. (Invitational)
For the Asian show, the Harwood has hung three of Mimi’s abstracts, bold acrylics in forceful colors with weighty forms obedient to the physical laws of another reality. In “Hanging on This Side of Blue,” three hefty forms orbit each other with string curling between them. They could be geographic formations seen from a great distance, or a microscopic view of something unrecognizable—but their spatial relationship achieves a kind of grace that reminds me of the space-station rendezvous to the tune of Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” in “2001: Space Odyssey.”
Mimi currently is working on a series of abstract paintings in which she focuses on string, or ribbon—its shapes, colors, and, needless to say, its movement.
Mimi Chen Ting renders Mother with great love and tenderness in her mixed-media “Compass-Ion.” She’s fluid, in motion, infinite. Her body extends off the canvas, and is encased in a red circle: intimations of blood, womb, and warmth. The altar is a square niche in the center of the piece, at a powerful site on Mother’s body: the tan tien, the sea of chi, the cauldron, the Manipura chakra, the source of healing. The site is also that of Mother’s womb and yoni, signifying her receptivity, the yin, the feminine. Mimi ingeniously constructed the piece in four rectangles that fit together in such a way as to leave the center-the altar-empty. In essence, the piece is a spiral, a vortex, converging at the altar. According to a ribbon of Chinese calligraphy: “The embrace of compassion knows no bounds and never tires.”
The show continues through June 12.
“What a joy to review such a beautiful, elemental piece” -DH-
The serendipity of printmaking accommodates her wit, vigor, and literary proclivities. Her big acrylic canvases are remarkable for the flatness of effect, which has been compared to that of Matisse. She resemble (Matisse) in others ways too: color and drama. As turned an everyday parlor in to stage, Ting makes theatre of ordinary dreams and spontaneous associations. It is her tracking of the tension, its unpredictable rhythm, that dramatizes the ultimate refinement of her canvases. The viewer is dafely seated in the eye of a hurricane, and in her best work, Ting, like Matisse, uncovers the grandeur in tranquility.
“(Ting’s) work and personality exude excitement and passion… witty and intriguing.”
Jane Mont, Mandarin Oriental