Tongson painted 2011’s “Plum 5” with his fingers. (Courtesy Chinese Culture Center)

Tongson painted 2011’s “Plum 5” with his fingers. (Courtesy Chinese Culture Center)

Wesley Tongson’s evocative ‘finger’ paintings at Chinese Culture Center

Continually exploring the possibilities of ink, Wesley Tongson created exquisite pictures of mountains and flora, painting many of them largely with his fingers. “Wesley Tongson: The Journey,” an exhibition at the Chinese Culture Center in The City through March, provides a career-spanning look at the significant Hong Kong artist.

Curated by Asian-art scholar Catherine Maudsley, the show contains 23 ink works created by Tongson (1957-2012) over three decades, through his periods of splash-ink art and signature “finger” painting.

The Hong Kong-born Tongson took up painting at 17 and studied Eastern and Western art. Twentieth-century masters Zhang Daqian and Pablo Picasso, on opposite sides of the globe, were among his influences.

Religion — primarily Zen philosophy and also Christianity — shaped Tongson’s work, as did mental illness. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15, Tongson said his painting and faith helped him deal with personal struggles and enabled him to achieve a sense of being grounded and purpose.

His journey also included an ongoing effort to master the art of landscape painting — the highest form of Chinese art, he believed. Mountainscapes were his specialty in this arena.

The exhibit’s early works, painted in the 1980-90s, include landscapes reflecting the artist’s traditional training and paintings featuring the splash-ink method (in which ink and water interact on rice paper).

Already experimenting with non-brush techniques at this point in his career, he incorporated ink rubbing and marbling (creating effects suggesting rocklike textures) into his paintings.

“Landscape 10” (1988) and “Landscape 11” (1988) feature washes of bright color and an abstract look. More realistic and sometimes quietly majestic works such as “Approaching Rainstorm” (1988), “Misty Mountains” (1993) and “Mountain 1” (1995), which contains hints of cubism, exemplify his devotion to landscapes.

In “Red Plums Over the Earth” (1993), black lines and splattered red dots form a simple but arresting composition of branches and fruit.

About a decade before his death, Tongson put the brush aside and began painting with his fingers, fingernails and other parts of his hands. These innovative works, generally black and white and sometimes as large as 8 feet tall or wide, make up much of the exhibit’s extraordinary second half.

“Pine 2” (2010) and “Pine 3” (2011) are remarkably accomplished renderings of the familiar trees. Tongson painted the pine needles so dynamically that they resemble fireworks.

Tongson painted 2011’s “Plum 5” with his fingers. (Courtesy Chinese Culture Center)

Another highlight is “Plum 5” (2011), a 6-foot finger painting of blossoms, branches and plums. Characteristic of Tongson’s art, immense skill and driving feeling work terrifically in tandem in the work.

IF YOU GO
Wesley Tongson: The Journey
Where: Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St., third floor (inside Hilton hotel), S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes March 9
Admission: Free
Contact: www.cccsf.usCatherine MaudsleyChinese Culture Centerfinger paintinginkVisual ArtsWesley Tongson: The Journey

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Outdoor dining, as seen here at Mama’s on Washington Square in North Beach in September, is expected to resume in San Franisco this week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to reopen outdoor dining, personal services

San Francisco will allow outdoor dining and other limited business activity to… Continue reading

Patients line up in their cars to receive a shot at The City’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site at City College of San Francisco on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Legislation would require SF to create a public COVID-19 vaccine plan — fast

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health would have to come up with… Continue reading

Ian Jameson (center) organized a group of tenant rights activists and assembled at the El Monte City Hall to demand that the City Council there pass an eviction moratorium barring all evictions during the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
California would extend eviction protections to June 30 under proposal

Legislation released Monday would also subsidize rent for low-income tenants

A statue of Florence Nightingale outside the Laguna Honda Hospital is one of only two statues of women in The City. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
S.F. still falling short of goal to represent women in public art

City has few streets or public facilities not named after men

Comedian and actor Bob Odenkirk is among the dozens of performers in Festpocalypse, streaming this weekend to benefit SF Sketchfest. (Courtesy photo)
Bob Odenkirk joins star-studded Festpocalypse gang

Virtual comedy benefit replaces SF Sketchfest this year

Most Read