Tony Wong China, 1948-2012

Born in 1948 in Guangdong, China


Tony Wong moved to Hong Kong in 1960, and immigrated to the United States to begin his studies at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1966. He received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1972, and later obtained his master of arts and master of fine arts in painting at the University of California, Berkeley in 1973 and 1975, respectively. From 1975 to 1977, Wong taught as an assistant professor of art at the Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois before relocating to New York to work professionally as an artist. 

Wong worked across a variety of mediums, allowing himself full exploration of his subjects from different perspectives. Often starting with pastel on paper as a preliminary drawing, he continued with oil on canvas and then sculpture, sometimes working on both simultaneously. Through the presentation of three different versions of each work, the artist was able to further understand and discover new aspects of his recurring motifs, which include solitude, existence, change, love, pain, and loss. Residing between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality, the surfaces of his work are layered with impastoed oil paint, as if the colors are constantly shifting in movement and emerging from the canvas. 

His figurative works blend images from American folklore with familiar stories of traditional Chinese mythology his grandmother recounted during his childhood. The idea of the narrative remained a consistent fundamental concept from his earlier work in the 1970s throughout the remainder of his artistic career. The artist confessed during an interview with Kayan Hui from the Shanghaiist for his solo exhibition at the Leo Gallery in 2009, “What inspires me usually fades in and out, but never fully goes away. It’s like a history of art. Henry Rousseau freaked me out at first, but years later I suddenly had a new respect for him. Van Gogh I really loved too…Also, literature, more than music, has also been an inspiration. Literature makes me think — you see a parallel world between art and writing. There’s always something around to inspire my paintings, inspiration is all around, and sometimes it never even gets close to the canvas. And I draw my inspiration from life experiences.” Wong’s distinctly symbolic, unavoidably mysterious works utilize the ambiguous space between reality and the realm of dreams to suggest a story that is allusively universal through the power of imagery. 

Tony Wong participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally, since his first one-man exhibition was held in San Francisco, California in 1974, including at the Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong (1965); Art Institute of Chicago Museum, Illinois (1972); Collage and Assemblage in California, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, California (1975); The Sense of Scale, Oakland Museum, California (1977); Municipal Art Gallery, Athens, Greece (1985); Exhibition Hall Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Madrid, Spain (1985); Point of View, Rockland Center for the Arts, New York (1991); and Popping Up: Revisiting the Relationship Between 2D & 3D, Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong (2010). Wong was chosen to represent the United States in Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained: American Visions of the New Decade, curated by Marcia Tucker, and presented in the United States Pavilion at the 41st Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy in 1984. Wong was the recipient of various grants and awards, including the C.A.P.S. Fellowship (1981–1982); Yaddo Fellowship (1983 and 1990); and National Endowment for the Arts (1983–1984). His most recent exhibition at the time of his death, Tony Wong: Recent Works, was held at the Tina Keng Gallery in Taipei in 2011.