Hong Kong Painter Wesley Tongson and the Lineage of Chinese Landscape Artwork

BERKELEY, CA — Wesley Tongson, who died in 2012, was a present-day Hong Kong painter, but his calligraphy, landscapes, and splash paintings ended up tied to tradition. In the show at the UC Berkeley Artwork Museum and Pacific Movie Archive (BAMPFA), Spiritual Mountains: The Artwork of Wesley Tongson, Tongson’s paintings, such as 11 his spouse and children not long ago donated to the museum, hang together with operates from the museum’s selection of regular Chinese ink paintings of the Qing dynasty and early 20th century.

Julia M. White, BAMPFA’s senior curator for Asian Artwork who curated this present, initially saw Tongson’s do the job at an exhibition at San Francisco’s Chinese Lifestyle Centre in 2018, and its dynamism and large array amazed her.

“I was flummoxed by the way he moved from a single style of painting to the up coming,” she stated. “His splash paintings are so ethereal and beautiful.”

White satisfied Tongson’s sister, Cynthia Tongson, at that demonstrate, and invited her for a meeting at the museum with White and Lawrence Rinder, then BAMPFA’s director. They both equally hoped to broaden the vary of the assortment, which has a prosperity of Chinese classical get the job done, but considerably less modern ink art.

Cynthia Tongson had made the decision to donate some of her brother’s art soon after the response she got to a demonstrate of his perform, Ink Explorations: A Wesley Tongson Retrospective, which she arranged in 2014, soon after his dying.

Installation check out, Non secular Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson at BAMPFA (courtesy Impart Images)

“I required folks to know how Wesley experienced progressed as an artist,” she stated about the clearly show. “Even in Hong Kong no just one realized how he’d progressed into finger portray. Anyone kept telling me how it was one thing they’d under no circumstances observed just before, and I realized I necessary to share the do the job.”

Due to the fact of its selection of historical Chinese painting, as properly as its ties to the University of California, Berkeley, Cynthia Tongson resolved to donate Tongson’s paintings to Berkeley.

White suggests she structured Religious Mountains with an eye to exhibiting Tongson’s connection to the previous. “I required to aim on putting him in the context of greater Chinese historical perspective,” she claimed. “He figured out from his mentors and there’s a respect and a linkage.”

Some of Tongson’s lecturers are incorporated in the show, these types of as Hong Kong artist Harold Wong, acknowledged for his landscape portray, and Liu Guosong, a Taiwanese artist who taught a workshop in Hong Kong, and who was referred to as “the father of modern-day Chinese ink painting.”

Tongson’s “Spiritual Mountains 6” (2012) echoes Wong’s 1993 “Sound of the Waterfall,” with equally landscapes invented. “We know it is a mountain, and we know it is a waterfall, but they clearly are imaginary,” White stated.

Wesley Tongson (image courtesy the Tongson household)

Tongson’s monochromatic “Untitled” (1997) reveals the influence of Shitao, the Qing-era learn that Cynthia Tongson suggests her brother most revered. The display has his scroll of a lotus from 1704 and “Reminiscences of Nanking,” from the very same calendar year. Both of those artists seem for the essence of the pure environment, but really don’t attempt to replicate it White noticed how Tongson’s mountains are only evenly outlined by their shape.

Tongson studied at the Ontario College of Art for a couple many years and grew to become fond of Cubism. Pablo Picasso was his preferred Western artist, and you can see his impact in “Untitled” as properly. BAMPFA’s Picasso etching, “L’Homme à la guitare” (1915), hangs in the exhibit.

The show also has examples of Tongson’s calligraphy, accomplished employing his fingers and fingers instead than a brush. This has priority in conventional Chinese painting, as with Gao Qipei, whose 18th-century “Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller” hangs in the clearly show.

Tongson was daring and prolific, drawing on procedures of masters of Chinese portray to make his significant-scale landscapes and intricate exams of mother nature his individual.

“I assume he had an open intellect to a whole lot of distinct methods,” White claimed. “He started off portray with fingers and fingers and gave up the middleman that the brush supplied and turned pretty much a component of the operate of art. Wesley was courageous in his willingness to experiment. In the way he expresses the organic planet, for case in point, you see what Wesley did pushing the limitations of ink and paper.”

Wesley Tongson, “Untitled,” from the Religious Mountains series (2012), ink and paper, 96 x 49 inches (gift of Lilia and Kenneth Tongson)

Religious Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson proceeds at BAMPFA (2155 Center St, Berkeley, Calif.) by June 12.