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

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

BERKELEY, CA — Wesley Tongson, who died in 2012, was a modern Hong Kong painter, but his calligraphy, landscapes, and splash paintings have been tied to custom. In the exhibit at the UC Berkeley Artwork Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Non secular Mountains: The Artwork of Wesley Tongson, Tongson’s paintings, like 11 his family members recently donated to the museum, dangle together with functions from the museum’s selection of conventional Chinese ink paintings of the Qing dynasty and early 20th century.

Julia M. White, BAMPFA’s senior curator for Asian Artwork who curated this demonstrate, initially observed Tongson’s function at an exhibition at San Francisco’s Chinese Tradition Centre in 2018, and its dynamism and extensive assortment amazed her.

“I was flummoxed by the way he moved from 1 form of portray to the up coming,” she said. “His splash paintings are so ethereal and stunning.”

White fulfilled Tongson’s sister, Cynthia Tongson, at that show, and invited her for a meeting at the museum with White and Lawrence Rinder, then BAMPFA’s director. They equally hoped to broaden the selection of the assortment, which has a prosperity of Chinese classical function, but considerably less fashionable ink artwork.

Cynthia Tongson experienced determined to donate some of her brother’s artwork just after the reaction she got to a show of his do the job, Ink Explorations: A Wesley Tongson Retrospective, which she structured in 2014, following his loss of life.

Installation view, Religious Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson at BAMPFA (courtesy Impart Images)

“I preferred people to know how Wesley experienced progressed as an artist,” she said about the display. “Even in Hong Kong no a person knew how he’d progressed into finger portray. All people held telling me how it was some thing they’d never ever noticed ahead of, and I realized I necessary to share the function.”

Due to the fact of its selection of historical Chinese portray, as perfectly as its ties to the University of California, Berkeley, Cynthia Tongson made a decision to donate Tongson’s paintings to Berkeley.

White claims she structured Non secular Mountains with an eye to showing Tongson’s relationship to the earlier. “I desired to target on placing him in the context of bigger Chinese historic viewpoint,” she stated. “He figured out from his mentors and there’s a respect and a linkage.”

Some of Tongson’s instructors are provided in the clearly show, this sort of as Hong Kong artist Harold Wong, identified for his landscape portray, and Liu Guosong, a Taiwanese artist who taught a workshop in Hong Kong, and who was identified as “the father of modern day Chinese ink painting.”

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

Wesley Tongson (graphic courtesy the Tongson spouse and children)

Tongson’s monochromatic “Untitled” (1997) demonstrates the influence of Shitao, the Qing-period learn that Cynthia Tongson claims her brother most highly regarded. The exhibit has his scroll of a lotus from 1704 and “Reminiscences of Nanking,” from the exact same yr. Both of those artists search for the essence of the all-natural world, but really don’t attempt to replicate it White observed how Tongson’s mountains are only evenly outlined by their shape.

Tongson researched at the Ontario University of Artwork for a several decades and turned fond of Cubism. Pablo Picasso was his preferred Western artist, and you can see his impact in “Untitled” as very well. BAMPFA’s Picasso etching, “L’Homme à la guitare” (1915), hangs in the show.

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

Tongson was bold and prolific, drawing on methods of masters of Chinese portray to make his significant-scale landscapes and intricate examinations of character his very own.

“I believe he had an open up thoughts to a whole lot of distinct tactics,” White said. “He began portray with fingers and hands and gave up the middleman that the brush provided and became just about a section of the perform of artwork. Wesley was courageous in his willingness to experiment. In the way he expresses the pure environment, for instance, you see what Wesley did pushing the boundaries of ink and paper.”

Wesley Tongson, “Untitled,” from the Non secular Mountains sequence (2012), ink and paper, 96 x 49 inches (reward of Lilia and Kenneth Tongson)

Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson carries on at BAMPFA (2155 Heart St, Berkeley, Calif.) by means of June 12.