ink & colour on paper
125 x 248 cm (49 x 97.8 in)
TONG KA WAI
Tongson, with his family's roots in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, was born in Hong Kong in 1957.
He was 15 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition that, together with a fervent commitment to Zen philosophy, shaped his bold artistic vision and his life.
At 17, while still a student at Hong Kong International School (HKIS), Tongson commenced to paint formally, at first in a manner inspired by the Chinese literati style, wenren hua.
Following graduation from HKIS in 1977, Tongson moved to Toronto, Canada, where he studied Western painting at Ontario College of Art and Chinese brush painting with the renowned Madame Gu Qingyao (1896-1978).
It was at this time that Tongson also began to explore and to teach himself splash ink painting, a technique which originated in 8th century China and was exemplified by the work of Zhang Daqian in the 20th century - and for which, eventually, Tongson would himself become best known.
Tongson returned home to Hong Kong in 1981, where he continued his studies with Harold Wong (Huang Zhongfang, b. 1943), the distinguished collector, connoisseur and painter. In the ensuing decade, Tongson continued to explore the creative possibilities of splash ink painting and began to draw on his Western and Eastern influences for the creation of highly original contemporary works. During the latter half of the 1980s these early works were shown in several solo exhibitions and in the 1988 group show, "Modern Chinese Paintings by Five Artists," at Hong Kong's City Hall.
Throughout his career, Tongson considered landscape painting to be the most difficult and highest accomplishment of Chinese art and devoted most of his energies to mastering the form, in particular mountainscapes. Indeed, in the 1990s, he often referred to himself as "Mountainscape Teacher" (Shandou Laoshi) and, in his later years, signed his paintings as "Mountain Taoist" (Shandou Daoren). Tongson also excelled in painting bamboo, plum blossoms, lotus, orchids, and pines, and was a highly accomplished calligrapher too.
Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, Tongson intensified his commitment to splash ink painting. His spiritual journey towards Zen-based enlightenment was by this time inseparable from his artistic explorations - transcending the conventional bounds of landscape painting was akin to transcending one's self. Tongson referred to his works during this period as Mountains of Heaven Zen paintings, and attributed their remarkable, meditative imagery to a pure state of mind, describing them as flowing from a world beyond and, emanating from, the artist's heart.
At the same time, Tongson continued to be inspired by Western art. Indeed, the strong colours in his work may have been directly influenced by his studies of Western art. In particular he admired cubism for the way in which it brought volume into painting, and among Western painters he clearly favoured Picasso, whose creativity he revered.
Tongson's work was shown to acclaim at solo exhibitions in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the United States throughout the 1990s and at the group shows "New Trends - Art Hong Kong" in 1994 and "Art Asia" in 1995.
Tongson continued to form his own style of Chinese landscape art and to break from the traditional forms of Chinese landscape painting. From the late 1990s onwards, he explored ways of integrating his splash ink methods with traditional Chinese brushstroke techniques. Beginning in 2001, he also started to experiment with finger painting. By 2009, he had virtually ceased using brushes, working primarily with his fingers, hands and nails to create emotionally communicative and powerful pieces, a hallmark of his mature period.
Throughout his all-too-brief, intensely experienced life, Tongson was challenged by schizophrenia, countering this condition through his art. This constant creative tension, a source of true happiness for him, left us with a unique artistic legacy that realized a tranquil, enlightened, unspoiled natural world in stark contrast to the private, difficult world in which he lived. His work is in collections including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, M+ Museum for Visual Culture and MK Lau Collection in Hong Kong, USC Pacific Asia Museum in United States as well as numerous public and private collections worldwide.
Tongson left this world on 16th July, 2012.
16th September, 1957
Born in Hong Kong.
1963 - 1969
Attends St. Paul's Co-educational College Primary School, Hong Kong.
1969 - 1973
Attends St. Paul's Co-educational College, Hong Kong.
Attends Brentwood College School, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Is diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15.
Attends Hong Kong International School, Hong Kong.
Commences formal painting, at first in traditional Chinese style.
Graduates from Hong Kong International School, Hong Kong. Moves to Toronto, Canada, where he lives until early 1981. Studies Chinese brush painting with Madame Gu Qingyao (1896-1978) and Western painting at Ontario College of Art. Begins teaching himself splash ink painting, inspired by the work of 20th century master Zhang Daqian.
Returns to Hong Kong and continues Chinese painting studies with Harold Wong (Huang Zhongfang, 1943-2022). Continues to explore possibilities of splash ink painting and begins to draw on Western and Chinese influences to create own highly original contemporary works.
1985 - 1989
Holds first solo exhibition in 1985, followed by other shows in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
1990 - 1995
Continues to exhibit work in solo and group shows.
Begins to experiment with finger painting while continuing to form own style of Chinese landscape art, exploring ways of integrating splash ink with traditional Chinese brushstroke techniques.
Virtually ceases using brushes, working primarily with fingers and nails.
16th July, 2012
Passes away in Hong Kong, age 54.
Wesley's works are in public and private collections in Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, CA, USA
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA, USA
USC Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, CA, USA
M+ Museum for Visual Culture, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU, Hong Kong
Morgan Stanley Asia Limited, Hong Kong
First Eastern Investment Group (Hong Kong & Shanghai)
Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong
Conrad Hong Kong Hotel
Conrad Tokyo Hotel, Japan
News & Events
Exhibitions & Publications
- [Group] “Era of Principle and No Principle Interwoven—Calligraphy as a Visual Form”, Hengshan Calligraphy Art Center, Taoyuan Museum of Fine Art, Taiwan
- [Group] "Ink - A Witness to Millenia", Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong
- [Group] "City Rhymes: The Melodious Notes of Calligraphy", Hong Kong Musuem of Art, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson", Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California, USA
- [Solo] "WESLEY TONGSON", Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Mountain Taoist", University Museum and Art Gallery (HKU), Hong Kong
- [Group] "3E14", Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Wesley Tongson: The Journey", Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco, California, US
- [Solo] "Breakthrough: by Wesley Tongson's Rules", Ink Asia, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
- [Group] Fine Art Asia, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Wesley's Heaven", D3E Art, Hong Kong
- [Group] "Lui Shou Kwan & Wesley Tongson", D3E Art, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "The House of Ka- Wesley Tongson (Tong Ka Wai)", Ink Asia, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
- [Group] "Beyond: New Abstract Art from China", Living Octave Sangha Gallery, Suzhou, China
- [Solo] "Wesley Tongson: Solo Exhibition in Beijing", Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing, China
- [Group] Hong Kong Art Centre Fundraiser Preview, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
- [Group] “2015 Asia Art Archive Fundraiser” Preview, The Space, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Ink Explorations: A Wesley Tongson Retrospective", Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
- [Group] Art Asia, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Wesley Tongson", Tongson 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong
- [Solo] Godfrey Far Eastern Art, London, UK
- [Solo] Hong Kong American Club
- [Solo] Mandarin Oriental Fine Arts, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "The Vibrant Land", Artpreciation Gallery, Hong Kong
- [Group] “New Trends – Art Hong Kong,” Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
- [Solo] "Mountains of Heaven - Modern Chinese Paintings by Tong Ka Wai," Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, California, US
- [Solo] 'Mountains of Heaven - Modern Chinese Paintings by Wesley Tongson,' Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
- [Solo] 'Dancing Colours - Paintings by Wesley Tongson,' Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
- [Solo] Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre, Hong Kong, sponsored by Hong Kong Urban Council
- [Solo] 'The Exhibition of Wesley Tongson', Hanart 2 Gallery, Hong Kong
- [Solo] Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong
- [Group] “Modern Chinese Paintings by Five Artists,” Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong
- [Solo] Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong
- [Solo] Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong
- Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson (United States: the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2023)
- Wesley Tongson - The Journey (United States: Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, 2019)
- Ink Explorations: A Wesley Tongson Retrospective ( Hong Kong: INK.Spiration, 2014)
- The Landscape - Modern Chinese Paintings by Tang Jiawei (Hong Kong: 1996)
- The Landscape - Modern Chinese Paintings by Tang Jiawei (Hong Kong: 1994)
- Wesley Tongson- The Vibrant Land ( Hong Kong: Artpreciation Gallery, 1994)
- Mountains of Heaven- Modern Chinese Paintings by Tong Ka Wai ( Hong Kong: 1993)
- Mountains of Heaven- Modern Chinese Paintings by Wesley Tongson ( Hong Kong: ShuangLe Gallery, 1992)
- Dancing Colours- Paintings by Wesley Tongson ( Hong Kong: ShuangLe Gallery, 1991)
- Traditional Paintings by Wesley Tongson ( Hong Kong: 1988)
Wesley Tongson Charitable Trust and INK.Spiration Charitable Company Limited were established by the Tongson family to manage the artistic legacy of Wesley Tongson. All net proceeds raised will be used to support charity. Wesley Tongson Charitable Trust owns the copyright to all of Wesley's work.
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