New Tang Dynasty Television’s (NTD) 5th International Figure Painting Competition was held at the Salmagundi Club in New York from November 24 through November 30, 2019. 

This year’s figure painting competition received more than 400 submissions from 258 artists in 46 countries. The judging panel then selected 103 of these works for exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in New York, and 63 of these works were honored at an awards ceremony held on Thursday, November 26, 2019. 

An auction was also held for 48 of the award-winning pieces on Saturday, November 30, 2019. One piece received the highest bid of $2 million. 

The painting competition aims to “revive the traditional art of realistic oil painting” and centers around the theme of “pure truth, pure kindness, and pure beauty” in the creation of human figure oil paintings using authentic academic realism painting techniques.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday, November 24, kicked off the International Figure Painting Competition. (left to right) Ms. Lijuan Ma, director of NTD’s competition series; Mr. John Tang, CEO of NTD; Mr. Zhang Kunlun, head judge of the Figure Painting Competition; Mr. Yang Kuang-pin, deputy director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York; and Mr. Nick Dawes, chairman and CEO of the Salmagundi Art Club. (Minghui)
Winners of the 5th International Figure Painting Competition at the Salmagundi Club in New York on Thursday, November 26, 2019. (Minghui)

Professor Zhang Kunlun: Human culture has to be restored

Professor Zhang Kunlun, head judge of the competition, delivers opening remarks at the opening ceremony on November 24, 2019. (Minghui)

Professor Zhang Kunlun, the head judge of the competition, said he was very appreciative of the artists who participated in the competition, as they are helping preserve one of the best and most precious achievements of humanity.

“Nowadays art has degenerated to the extent to the point of no return, so to see that there are still so many artists walking the path of tradition… We must do so. Our arts must return to the path gifted to us by the divine. Human culture has to be restored–this is evident,” Mr. Zhang said.

Xiaoping Chen, a judge and a two-time gold award winner of the competition, said the inspiration for creating works of fine art can be found in ancient wisdom and traditional masterpieces.

“Mankind is created by gods; therefore in depicting them, humans should strive for a truthful representation rather than distort or exaggerate… If [the artist] has a good grasp of accuracy in proportion, contours, contrast, and perspective, the figures depicted will naturally turn out beautiful,” she said.

Painters often struggle to create works of distinction. Yet, accurate and honest portrayals are often ignored by modern artists. Ms. Chen said delivering beauty, especially in figure painting, requires one to be faithful to the subject and adhere to classical realism styles.

In addition, a person’s inner spirit affects the caliber of their skills. “Good oil paintings, if we just look at the masterpieces in the museums such as those of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres or William Adolphe Bouguereau, their strokes are so detailed that you can barely see them on the surface of the painting … My understanding is that when the painter can take their own ego lightly and solely focus on showing the other, they can achieve almost flawless imitation.”

Ms. Chen said a painting can only be considered truly great when it resonates with people on a spiritual level, and this is only achievable through the artist’s internal, spiritual elevation.

“When your heart is filled with what’s noble and beautiful, it will show through your paintings,” she said. “You can only present beauty when there is beauty within you. Therefore you must elevate yourself.”

Competition’s values encourage participants 

NTD Television CEO John Tang presents a medal and an award certificate to the gold award winner, Kong Haiyan, in front of her work April 25, 1999. (Minghui)

Kong Haiyan’s gold award-winning piece April 25, 1999 portrays the historical moment when ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners, including herself, gathered outside the State Appeals Office in Beijing to peacefully appeal for justice after more than 40 practitioners were illegally arrested by authorities in Tianjin. 

“As an artist, painting the truth is my mission. I want to show the world the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. I hope that this persecution will end soon. That is my biggest wish,” Ms. Kong said. 

Ms. Kong believed that an artist has a responsibility to society, and thus a personal moral responsibility as well. Art is a powerful medium that inevitably influences its viewers, and an artist has to make a choice as to which path they will follow.

“I want to convey compassion, and give people something bright and uplifting … And I believe many artists in the world want to create traditional arts and present traditional values. That’s why a competition like this, that gives artists a chance to show these works to the world, is important,” she said. 

Sandra Kuck, winner of a Technique Award at the International Figure Painting Competition, with her work Yin and Yang on November 26, 2019. (Minghui)

“I’ve been to a lot of shows, and this is one of the best,” said Sandra Kuck, who received a Technique Award at the NTD competition.

Ms. Kuck has been a professional artist for 50 years. She has participated in many competitions and received many awards. To her, the finalists’ paintings in this exhibition made it one of the best shows she has seen.

She was especially inspired by the silver award-winning piece Unmoved Under Immense Pressure by Chin-Chun Liu. “It’s very classical,” she said of the composition and style. “I think I’m going to start going more this way.”