In his transient time as an artist, Matthew Wong (1984–2019) addressed a paradox that haunts artists who work in conventional mediums: how do you accommodate the medium whereas additionally turning into your self. It takes some artists years to develop into themselves, whereas others appear to stability traditions and individuality from the outset. Wong belongs to the latter group.
For Wong, an artist of Chinese language descent, residing and dealing in Hong Kong, Zhongshan, China, and Edmonton, Canada — the East and the West — the paradox encompasses cultural and racial concerns. I feel that is mirrored in his first alternative of supplies, which he continued to make use of all through his the remainder of his life.
In 2012, shortly after Wong graduated from the Metropolis College of Hong Kong Faculty of Inventive Media with an MFA in pictures, he started drawing. In 2014, in an interview in on-line journal Altermodernists (October 29, 2014), he acknowledged that he initially began with a sketchbook and a bottle of ink and making “a multitude day-after-day randomly.”
He additionally acknowledged:
Artwork is all-encompassing in my every day life. After I’m not working, I’m on the library doing analysis into the historical past of artwork, determining the place I can match into the larger dialogue between artists all through time, or on the web taking a look at art-related web sites and interesting in dialogue on social media with artists and art-world figures all over the world.
Wong had his debut solo present in New York at Karma in 2018. His second present at Karma, Matthew Wong: Blue (November 8, 2019–January 5, 2020), was posthumous. Whereas it was obvious from his first exhibition that drawing was central to his follow, and that he proceeded mark by mark, it was not clear till his present exhibition, Matthew Wong: Footprints in the Wind, Ink Drawings 2013 – 2017, at Cheim & Learn (Could 5–September 11, 2021), simply how deeply his work is rooted within the follow of ink drawing on rice paper.
Rice paper was invented in China firstly of the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). Initially used to jot down on, it was not till the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) dominated China that artists who wished to interrupt away from earlier generations started portray in ink on rice paper reasonably than silk. I can not think about that Wong didn’t know this historical past. Plainly consciously being a Chinese language artist was the muse upon which he started and from which he by no means wavered, at the same time as he absorbed a variety of references and influences. Within the catalogue printed on the event of this exhibition, Daybreak Chan writes:
We all know that Wong particularly mounted his consideration on the artwork of Shitao, in addition to these of his [Shitao’s] up to date, Bada Shanren. Each artists had been well-known for pushing the envelope of their work — for transferring ink portray in the direction of shocking moments of expressive abstraction. Their affect is deeply built-in in Wong’s personal works. Wong maintained a dedicated ink-art follow, making an ink portray each morning. Portray instantly after waking, earlier than meals or espresso, he experimented boldly with the medium, pouring paint and letting it pool on the web page.
It appears to me that this could change how we have a look at Wong. As a substitute of seeing him as a self-taught Chinese language artist gesturing towards the work of western artists, equivalent to Vincent van Gogh, Lois Dodd, and Julian Schnabel for inspiration and steerage, as Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz proposed, he was absorbing the work of western artists by way of the lens of Chinese language artwork, particularly ink portray, which can’t be revised or scraped away, in addition to carved lacquerware.
Just like the older Chinese language artist Liu Xiaodong (b. 1963), who has expanded the frequent view of realism and observational portray by engaged on website, usually on a monumental scale, Wong has broadened what is often outlined as calligraphic artwork and portray primarily based on mark making. Liu redefined observational portray with the intention to subvert the propagandistic idealization of Russian-style Socialist Realism, which he discovered in class, whereas Wong expanded ink portray out of a need to make an area through which the 2 cultures that formed him match collectively. For these causes this exhibition is vital to an understanding of Wong’s work. It charts his improvement in addition to underscores his decisiveness and self-directed drive.
Given the misguided view amongst many westerners of Chinese language artwork as a convention primarily based on copying, it’s not shocking that the New York artwork world has certified its recognition of Liu and Wong as modern artists who moved each western artwork (realism) and Chinese language artwork (summary mark making) in a brand new route.
In “Untitled” (ink on rice paper, 15 1/2 by 27 inches, 2013), the earliest work within the exhibition, Wong stained the absorbent paper with totally different densities of ink, starting from deep black to washy grey, basically eschewing the calligraphic line. It’s, after all, calligraphy that almost all appealed to western artists considering line, from van Gogh to Mark Tobey and Robert Motherwell.
By staining the paper with irrevocable shapes and marks, Wong undercut any proof of tentativeness that he might need felt. What’s exceptional about this early ink is the diploma of confidence with which Wong evokes a fancy, atmospheric house of close to and much.
Wong’s course of for the ink drawings was incremental. In “Untitled” (ink on paper, 31 by 57 ½ inches, 2014), he poured ink in addition to used a loaded and dry brush, relying on what he was after. As with the 2013 work, the topic is an summary panorama that viewers can not fairly establish. Every mark, collection of marks, or form, appears to have known as him to make one other in response.
In “Untitled” (ink on paper, 30 ¾ by 57 ¼ inches, 2014), the dense, irregular grid of ragged, crisscrossing bands is made totally by pouring, with the bands spreading in numerous areas and intervals. Already in these early works, the viewer ought to sense Wong’s restlessness and openness; he was not on the lookout for a signature model.
By 2015, he was combining giant poured areas with swarms of small, repetitive marks, as within the overtly figurative “Untitled” (ink on paper, 26 3/4 by 22 1/8 inches), which is dominated by a silhouette of a what appears to be like like a younger woman that stretches from the paper’s prime to backside edge, amid a welter of vertical and horizontal marks of various lengths and widths. A big, triangular opening within the silhouette’s rounded face is stuffed with traces, bonding her to the environment. The opening is echoed by one other triangle that defines the house separating the nape of her neck, a braid of hair, and her shoulder. A thick brushstroke curving gently down from the entrance of the woman’s neck to the drawing’s backside edge accentuates her reference to the environment, because the house between the brushstroke and her chest is stuffed with traces which can be just like these exterior the thick line.
2015 additionally marks the primary time Wong titled a piece. Within the vertical “A Poet’s World” the silhouette of a defined head and solidly stained physique encounter a largely black, summary panorama within the foreground. The darkish panorama on the backside edge transitions within the center to outlined leaves and a sample of parallel traces set at totally different angles. Above and past the determine and foreground, Wong has made a collection of vertical traces, with quite a lot of marks in between. Within the higher a part of a tree trunk close to the left edge, he has written the work’s title ideogrammatically.
It appears to me that Wong strongly recognized with the Southern Faculty of Chinese language painters working in ink wash. Also referred to as the literati painters, they had been extra considering inside realities than the outward appearances and devotion to sensible element favored by artists related to the Northern Faculty. It’s best to take a look at Wong’s artwork from this attitude.
Outstanding as this might sound, it strikes me that by 2015 — simply three years after he first devoted himself to artwork and drawing in ink — he had discovered his topic and assembled an summary vocabulary of pouring, staining, and linework to create a whole world that’s parallel to ours.
One of many recurring topics of the literati painters was a lone traveler observing nature. This turned a motif in Wong’s concentrated views of the within of a flower or a determine gazing on the stars. At instances, as in “Winter Wind” (2016), the hooded determine exudes a melancholia that brings to thoughts the work of Edvard Munch.
In “Odyssey” (2017), a path ascends slowly because it recedes into distance, curving behind a dense archway of black tree trunks. Turning into the darkness, it’s exhausting to not learn this drawing metaphorically.
Matthew Wong: Footprints in the Wind, Ink Drawings 2013 – 2017 continues at Cheim & Learn (547 West twenty fifth Road, Chelsea, Manhattan) by way of September 11.