NEW YORK—The judges of the NTD Television International Figure Painting Competition don’t grade on a curve. As outstanding as the finalists’ works are, Tuesday night’s awards ceremony went without a gold winner. This is the first year that the top prize went unclaimed.
The competition is part of a series held by the television network to promote traditional arts of East and West. The mission of the Figure Painting Competition is to promote cultural exchange and the art of figure painting using classical Western realistic methods.
Judges are stringent with their criteria. Not only do they look at technique and the overall effect of a painting, they also require that artists demonstrate an understanding of art’s importance in upholding sacred values.
“The result is not what we’re after here,” said Professor Zhang Kunlun, chairman of the judging committee. “We’re here to pioneer the future of art.”
The future of art, as held by this competition’s judges, is to return to the ideals exemplified by the Renaissance—accuracy in representation, content that elevates artist and viewer, and adherence to traditional oil painting technique.
“Some of the works have good content but the technique is not quite up to par. Others show promising technique but show modern influences,” Zhang said to explain why there was no gold winner in the end.
Thus the silver award became the highest honor this year. Four artists won silver. Wang Jing and Li Ben from China portrayed the story of Falun Dafa; Gabriel Picart and Sandra Kuck won with portraits of young women in their families.
Strength in Faith
Wang’s “Joyfully Climbing Heaven’s Ladder” portrays a young Chinese woman clutching to her chest “Zhuan Falun,” the book of teachings at the core of the spiritual practice Falun Dafa. She seems to be able to see straight to heaven, and paradises open up before her.
Wang has been practicing Falun Dafa since 1995.
“I wanted to portray a cultivator’s state of mind when reading this book,” she said. “You discover that it explains the universal law, how to be a good person, and the origin of humanity. I wanted to express that compassionate energy that surrounds you when you practice, that joy and gratitude that as a cultivator you feel in every cell of your being.”
Since Falun Dafa came under fire from the Chinese Communist Party in 1999, its practitioners in China continue to hold on to their faith and spread the word, not only about the regime’s brutal persecution, but also about the practice’s spiritual and health benefits.
“They still spread the wonder of Dafa despite personal danger,” Wang said. “What prompts them? They truly feel it in their hearts.”
Li’s painting “Unmovable Faith” illustrates that steadfastness from the depths of a Chinese prison. In it, a young male Falun Dafa practitioner sits cross-legged at the top of stairs while two policemen try to drag him down using a rope tied around his torso. He seems to be unaffected by physical coercion—his faith makes him literally unmovable.
Gabriel Picart from Spain painted his daughter Allegra in a ballerina costume. Her slender frame and the delicate textures of her tutu make a striking contrast with the red background and the look of determination in her eyes. The color choice, simple composition, and clarity with which every texture is rendered make the small portrait immensely powerful and intimate at the same time.
Sandra Kuck also painted a precocious young woman. Of her three granddaughters, Yvonne is the youngest, and the one she was able to watch grow up since infancy. Kuck had her sit for the portrait in her home, which is decorated in ornate Asian décor, full of dragons, silks, and brocade. It feels almost like a royal portrait.
Yvonne is so small, at the of age 9, but has such a wise look in her eyes.
“She’s an interesting person, very well-read,” Kuck said. “I feel like she’s an old soul, like she’s been here before. I can talk about any subject and she knows what I’m saying.”
As part of the exhibit, Kuck will demonstrate portrait painting with a model 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Dec. 3 and 4. She’ll be accompanied by bronze winner Lesstro. The exhibition goes through Dec. 7 at 4 W. 43rd St. in Manhattan.
For more information and to see all the finalists’ paintings, visit competitions.ntdtv.com/oilpainting
Winners of the 2014 NTD Television International Figure Painting Competition
“Joyfully Climbing Heaven’s Ladder”—Wang Jing, China
“Allegra’s Portrait as Ballerina”—Gabriel Picart, Spain
“Unmovable Faith”—Li Ben, China
“Yvonne”—Sandra Kuck, United States
“Behind the Beauty–Slave Labor Products from Prison”—Wang Huimin, China
“Violin Repair Shop”—Max Ferguson, United States
“Self Portrait”—Chen Huomu, Taiwan
“Forever Playing”—Clement Kwan, Canada
Outstanding Technique Award
“White Dew”—Xin Mao, China
“Generations”—Shi Zongya, Taiwan
“Wish”—Kong Haiyan, Hong Kong
“Flower Girls”—Daniel Murri, United States
“Snow”— Hao Qiuyan, China
“Unconditional Love”—Kim Myerson, South Africa
“The Look” —Jesús Villarreal I, United States
“Silent”—Cedric Yiu, China
“Wish of the Earth”—Fang-Ching Hsu, Taiwan
“The Hope of Youth”—Helene Beland, Canada
“My Father” Bei Cuei, Taiwan
“Remembering”—Susan Blackwood, United States
“Esther Preparing to be Queen”—Mary Phillips, United States
“Girl in Red”—Olga Papkovitch, United States
“The Elder”—Jo Sherwood, United States
“Conquest of Saintly”—Parminder Atwal, India