Critics’ Picks

Wesley Tongson, Red Plums Over The Earth, 1993, ink on board, 37 4/5 x 58”.

Wesley Tongson, Red Plums Over The Earth, 1993, ink on board, 37 4/5 x 58”.

San Francisco

Wesley Tongson

Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco
750 Kearny Street Third Floor
October 12, 2018–March 9, 2019

Although this show includes just twenty-three works, it represents the range of Wesley Tongson’s thirty-year career, highlighting how the late Hong Kong–based artist expanded the traditional form of ink painting in which he was trained. The exhibition begins with some of his brightly colored abstract paintings made with splashed ink on rice paper and on board. To make Red Plums Over The Earth, 1993, Tongson first marbled the paper by dipping it in a pool of pigment and then painted the branches in dark, jagged lines, and finally added the magenta blossoms in splashed ink to achieve something dynamic and graceful. A selection of works dating from 1988 to 2001, some featuring mountains, show the artist’s other experiments with marbling and rubbing, which heighten the tension between traditional forms and their constraints.

Tongson surpassed those limits altogether in the last ten years of his life, when he decided to abandon his brush. He painted one of the latest pieces on view, Pine 3, in 2011, the year before he died, using just his fingers and fingernails. Nearly six feet tall, it is a dramatic example of the artist’s technical prowess. A branch with delicately knotted bark curves up the paper, its needles sharp and bristling with energy. Tongson’s techniques channel that energy to the viewer as well. Some visitors held their hands up to the works, attempting to trace the gestures of the artist’s hands across the paintings.