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Matthew Wong, 2015. Portrait of the artist. Courtesy Karma, New York. Photo by Monita Cheng.

Matthew Wong (1984–2019)

The Canada-born and -based, and Hong Kong–raised artist Matthew Wong, a self-taught painter whose psychological and vividly textured dabs of paint and canvas were often populated by a single, isolated figure and recalled the work of Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard, as well as Pointillism and Chinese ink painting and lacquerware, has died. The cause was suicide; the artist was thirty-five years old.

After studying cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Wong moved back to Hong Kong, where he completed an MFA in photography and creative media at City University in 2010. It wasn’t until 2012, however, that he “considered drawing for the first time—maybe as a last resort to find something to hold on to.” “At first I just bought a cheap sketch pad along with a bottle of ink and made a mess every day in my bathroom randomly pouring ink onto pages—smashing them together—hoping something interesting was going to come out of it,” he continued. “Pretty soon that was the only activity that sustained me in my daily routine.”

Though his distinctive painting style has been variously compared to those of Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Chris Ofili, and Peter Doig, Wong also listed Lee Lozano, Edvard Munch, Lois Dodd, Alex Katz, Xu Wei, and Shitao as influences. Poet and critic John Yau noted that Asian art, especially carved lacquerware, seemed central to his development: “In his paintings, Wong has brought together distinct strands of Western and Eastern art and made them into something that is recognizably his. It is not about adapting to one culture or another, but about absorbing as much as he can until the source becomes less and less important to point out. That seems to me to be the future of painting.” 

“My process is not limited to the time spent in my studio painting, in fact I would say most of the work is done in idle moments when I am at home daydreaming, or watching movies and listening to music, drinking coffee or going out on walks that have no destination or purpose in mind,” Wong said in an interview last year. “During these in-between moments I’ll often have quick flashes of imagery appear in and out of my thoughts. . . . Living a fairly reclusive life and finding the most stimulation and enjoyment from matters of the mind, it’s inevitable that the solitary nature of this pattern seeps into and informs my work.”

Following a 2016 group show at Karma’s Amangansett outpost curated by Matthew Higgs, Wong made his New York solo debut at Karma’s New York gallery last spring. “Blue,” a solo exhibition at Karma, New York, will open on November 8. 

Matthew Wong, The Quiet Night, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Karma, New York.