Wesley Tongson

Galerie du Monde presents a solo exhibition of Wesley Tongson (1957-2012) from September 24 to November 16, 2020. In exploration of the evolution of Wesley Tongson’s spiritual journey and artistic path marked by outstanding dedication and passion, the exhibition showcases Tongson’s aptitude in a range of techniques, from Chinese shanshui and calligraphy, to splash ink, to his monumental landscape and plant paintings created with his hands, fingers and nails.

One of the most important ink artists from Hong Kong, Wesley Tongson had a dynamic career spanning from the 1970s to 2012. He began with a foundation in Chinese brush painting, and studied Western painting at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Returning to Hong Kong in 1981, he went on to explore and teach himself splash ink painting. Tongson diluted washes in ink with brilliant mineral colors, a combination that conveys luminosity and grandeur. The dark ink tones which depict mountains are well balanced by the intense colors of the sky above. His splash ink landscapes seem to have an effortless spontaneity.

Tongson considered landscape painting to be the highest accomplishment of Chinese art and was devoted to mastering the form throughout his career. For Tongson, transcending the conventional bounds of landscape painting was akin to transcending one’s self – to attain enlightenment. Tongson also excelled in painting bamboo, plum blossoms, lotus, orchids, and pines.

In 2001, Wesley Tongson started to explore painting with his fingers to eliminate the “distance” between him and his works. By 2009, he had stopped using brush and painted completely with his hands, fingers and nails, pouring his raw emotions directly onto paper. During this transition, Tongson also shifted from color ink to black ink, and then at the end of his life, Tongson added colors back to his finger paintings.

Wesley Tongson’s finger paintings are full of sweeping, energetic lines and dots, depicting landscapes and plants. Working in large-scale forms, Tongson’s ability to maintain momentum and cohesiveness over a large-size surface is outstanding. These works represent the level of Tongson’s spiritual development, his path to enlightenment.

Challenged by schizophrenia since the age of 15, Tongson countered this condition through his art, leaving us with a unique artistic legacy that realized a tranquil, enlightened, and unspoiled natural world in stark contrast to the difficult world in which he lived.

Concurrently, the University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG) of the University of Hong Kong showcases six of Tongson’s works in a special exhibition “Mountain Taoist” till November 15 in the Fung Ping Shan Building.