Zhang Ding is described as "a combination of Picasso and Chinese town god temple" by famous cartoonist Hua Junwu. Zhang Ding has a big name in the art community for his outstanding achievements in cartoons, custom prints, paintings, murals, calligraphy, and landscape paintings.
When he was 15 years old Zhang Ding left his hometown Liaoning for Beijing alone and was admitted to the Traditional Chinese Painting Department of the Beijing Art School whose then principal was Zhang Henshui, a famous writer in China.
Soon after he started his studies in the school he began to feel suffocated by the curriculum setting that mainly dealt with paintings of roosters, hermits and palace ladies. The country's serious situation and people's hard lives were affecting him and he decided to draw pictures of the real world and people instead of idyllic leisure. He had his paintings exhibited in the two-year anniversary exhibition of the school and his art created a strong backlash in both the school and art community. He went to the Luxun Art School in Yan'an and began his cartoon production there in 1938 when he was 21. His cartoons were influenced both by western art and Chinese folklore.
Zhang Ding advocated and researched Chinese contemporary folk art. He and his contemporaries brought Chinese folk art to the attention of the art community. Later, as the principal of the Central Academy of Arts and Design and Zhang was devoted to saving and developing fork art. He had a wide range of subjects like toys, furniture, wax-dye, needlework, paper-cuts, potteries, Chinese puppet plays, painted sculptures, decorations, folk architectures, masks, weaving or even farmers' and children's paintings. He thought that the functions, forms and features of folk artworks should be studied in order to find some rules for the production and development of contemporary art. Zhang believed folk art was the mother of all arts and artists who neglected folk art would never succeed.
A combination of western and Chinese styles
It was in 1934 that Zhang first was introduced to the works of Picasso when he saw a couple of Picasso's painting books in a friend's home. He was immediately startled by Picasso's strong artistic quality and amazing language. Later his works were very much influenced by Picasso. Later in 1956, after designing the Paris exposition in China, Zhang went to France with a Chinese cultural delegation and visited Picasso. During this visit Zhang researched impressionism, post-impressionism and cubism. Later he went to Italy and paid a visit to big art museums in Florence, Milan and Venice.
Like most masters, Zhang seldom regarded himself as an artist or a distinguished person. Zhang Ding had been shouldering as the general designer of the red army's production exhibition and one of the major designers of industrial product package in Yan'an.
After the founding of PRC, as the art consultant of the Office of General Services of the country, Zhang Ding was engaged in the art design of Founding Ceremony, later followed his design of the first set of commemorating stamps of PRC, the emblem of CPPCC (National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) and decoration and layout of Tian'an men square during the Founding Ceremony.
Achievements in murals
It is Zhang who saved the art of Chinese murals which had been declining for almost a thousand years. His murals were rich and adorn the walls of many famous hotels such as the Great Wall Sheraton in Beijing.
During the summer of 1989, Zhang went to Shenzhen with his wife and painted a large ink mural titled Kunlun Song for the edifice of the Bank of China building in HK, which was considered a milestone of Chinese mural art as well as Zhang own art career.
Accomplishments in traditional Chinese painting
Since 1981 Zhang Ding produced Xingping Fishing Countryside, Praise to the Huge Tree and The Wood to Mother of Mencius. After finishing another pure-ink piece The Hometown of Ghosts, Zhang Ding had formed a brand-new style of his own and had reached its maturity.
(chinaculture September 8, 2006)