Wesley Tongson: Mountains of Heaven 天界 No. 163, 2001 Ink and Color on Board 72.4 x 97.8 cm Unframed

TONGSON Wesley 唐家偉 (b. 1957)

About the Artist

In his short life, Wesley Tongson did not just use ink to cover a wide range of subjects in unusual styles but he also experimented with the use of fluorescent colour that set him apart from most contemporary artists to this day.

His versatility was consistently based on the foundation of Shanshui Hua ( 山水畫 traditional Chinese landscape painting). And yet, with all his mastery and strong classical fundamentals, he was under-recognised in the world of contemporary Chinese ink. Our dealer Galerie du Monde gave him one of his first solo shows in 1986. Since his death in 2012, there has been growing international interest and his show at Galerie du Monde was highlighted at Art Basel Kabeinett in 2023.

At the age of 15, Wesley Tongson was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which, together with a devotion to Zen, shaped both his art and life. At 17, he began to formally paint in the Chinese literati style of wenren hua (文人畫 intellectual Chinese painting by scholars which were not commercial and reached its height in the 15/16c Ming) which he learned under private tutelage.

At 20, Tongson traveled to Canada to study Western art at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. On the side, he studied classical ink painting where he was exposed to the splash ink techniques of 20th-century master Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), whose modernist approach would influence an international audience (including Pablo Picasso) during his travels to Europe and the Americas after he left China in 1949.

Tongson returned to Hong Kong in 1981 where he studied with Liu Kuo-Sung [b. 1932). He continued to form his own style of Chinese landscape art, breaking away from traditional forms of Chinese landscape painting. In the 1990s, Tongson explored ways of integrating his splash ink methods with traditional Chinese brushstroke techniques. In early 2000, he began experimenting with finger painting. By 2009, Tongson abandoned the brush altogether and painted directly with his fingers and fingernails, creating emotionally communicative and powerful pieces, a hallmark of his mature period.

The two works we own from 2000 and 2001 from “The Mountains of Heaven” series (late 1980s to 2004) are two of the last of his interpretations of Chinese landscapes using “Tongson colours” with its combinations of phosphorescent pinks, greens, blues, and dark oranges hovering over mountains. This series evokes the influence of Zhang’s splash ink style using vivid pigments of bright pink, jade green, azurite blue, and burnt sienna that blur against black-and-white mountain ranges. Tongson considered landscape painting to be the most difficult and highest accomplishment of Chinese art.

Since his death in 2012, Tongson’s work has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions, most notably a retrospective at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in November 2014, at the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco from October 2018 to March 2019, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2022. His work is in private and museum collections including Hong Kong Museum of Art, M+ Museum for Visual Culture and University Museum and Art Gallery, Morgan Stanley Asia Limited in Hong Kong, USC Pacific Asia Museum, Asian Art Museum and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in the United States, as well as numerous public and private collections worldwide.




Wesley Tongson: Mountains of Heaven No. 144, 2000 Ink and Color on Board 71.7 x 97.3 cm Unframed