Critics’ Picks

Jeffrey Chong Wang, When You Walk Through the Garden, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

Jeffrey Chong Wang, When You Walk Through the Garden, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

Toronto

Jeffrey Chong Wang

Gallery House
2068 Dundas Street West
March 7–April 3, 2020

A series of figures with slumped postures and downcast expressions fills Jeffrey Chong Wang’s exhibition “The Other Side Now.” A sharply dressed man in a business suit has his hands full with a kitten, a briefcase, and the wrist of a resigned woman, her face unreadable. In a tree hovering above them is a woman cradled by a monkey, like Ann Darrow in the clutches of King Kong. The culminating image is both sinister and fantastical.

In each of Wang’s multi-figured paintings, no one makes eye contact; everyone is preoccupied with their own thoughts, daydreaming inside dreamlike paintings. The compositions mimic baroque operas, the canvas serving as a stage. The work is unified by a consistent technique and color palette, yet each piece is heavy with information, a kaleidoscope of art-historical references: El Greco’s elongated figures, the exposed thigh of a Balthus model, the tight formal arrangements of Indian miniatures, the green-hued skin tones of New Objectivity. But instead of featuring the mainly white bodies of Renaissance paintings, for example, Wang’s canvases depict his family members and elements of his memories from a childhood in China—a diaspora inserted into an exclusive canon. The structure is Western, but the narrative is more complex.

The critical subtext is balanced by a rigorous attention to painterly detail. Not an inch of the frame slips. The eye is encouraged to wander, as does a horde of cats, horses, and pigs across the works. A series of gestures—people holding hands, arms cradling a feline—creates small moments of intimacy. The exhibition’s ambitious scenes are evened out with somber solo portraits, but even these Wang manages to cast as surreal.