Wesley Tongson (1957-2012) was a Hong Kong artist dedicated his career exploring ink painting. On the occasion of his currently on-view exhibition Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at HKU invites scholars and the artist’s family member to walk us through the art practice and life journey of Wesley Tongson in Hong Kong, North America, and beyond.
About the artist:Wesley Tongson was born in Hong Kong in 1957. He started traditional Chinese painting in his teens and moved between Hong Kong and Canada for school while being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Tongson returned to Hong Kong in 1981, where he continued his studies with Harold Wong (b.1943) as well as Liu Kuo-Sung (b.1932). Throughout the 1990s, Tongson explored ways of integrating his splash ink methods with traditional Chinese brushstroke techniques. Beginning in 2001, he also started to experiment with finger painting. In 2009, Tongson abandoned the brush and painted directly with his fingers and fingernails, creating emotionally communicative and powerful pieces, a hallmark of his mature period. Since his death in 2012, Tongson’s work has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions, most notably, a retrospective at the Hong Kong Arts Center in November 2014 and at the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco from October 2018 to March 2019. His work is in collections including Hong Kong Museum of Art, M+ Museum, University Museum and Art Gallery of the University of Hong Kong, and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in the United States.
Wesley Tongson’s Techniques in Ink Paintings, by Dr. Yi Yi Mon (Rosaline) Kyo:
Dr. Kyo will be examining the modern and contemporary ink art techniques, including those of Zhang Daqian and Liu Guosong, that greatly impacted Wesley Tongson’s own artistic experimentation and the different approaches that Tongson developed throughout his career. She will explore the innovative techniques that Tongson used, including the use of stamps, ink resists, and finger painting to transfer the landscapes he envisioned in his mind onto the papers.
Spirit, Idea, and Landscape: The Innovative Tradition of Wesley Tongson, by Dr. Roz Hammers:
The mountain in traditional Chinese culture may deign to confer supreme status to an emperor. Conversely it could serve as a place or landscape of refuge for individuals who seek retreat from the burdens of society. In this talk, the art of Wesley Tongson presently on display at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is considered as a continuation of traditional associations of landscape and mountains. Dr. Hammers argues that Tongson seeks to engage with contemporary artistic practices of modernity while drawing out ideas of spirituality and individual expression to challenge and revitalize tradition to make his art highly innovative and deeply personal.
Roz Hammers, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Hong Kong, conducts research on the history of Chinese art and art theory. Her first book Pictures of Tilling and Weaving: Art, Labor and Technology in Song and Yuan China (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) received the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss prize. Her second book The Imperial Patronage of Labor Genre Paintings in Eighteenth-Century China was published by Routledge Press in 2021.
Yi Yi Mon (Rosaline) Kyo received her doctoral degree in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in modern and contemporary Chinese art. After graduating, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Postdoctoral Fellow, working closely with the Senior Curator of Asian Art at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, curating exhibitions on Buddhist Art, Contemporary Buddhist Arts, and pre-modern Chinese painting. Currently, she is an assistant professor of Art History and Chinese Studies at Davidson College. She was a curatorial consultant for the current Wesley Tongson exhibition, Spiritual Mountains at BAMPFA, and authored an article on Wesley Tongon’s paintings published in the January/February issue of Orientations.
Cynthia Tongson is the guardian of and advocate for the legacy of her late brother, Hong Kong artist Wesley Tongson. She is a supporter of the Asian Art Archive in America and Asian Cultural Council (Hong Kong), and she currently serves on the boards of the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco and Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive.
Anqi Li is a PhD student at American Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, the University of Hong Kong. She was most recently the Curator of Education and Public Programs at Para Site. Li holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco Art Institute and a Master of Education degree in Arts in Education (AIE) from Harvard University.