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A Thousand Dreams Of Plum Blossoms, 1996. 28.3 x 38.4". Ink & color on board. By Wesley Tongson

My late brother, Wesley Tongson’s work is considered unique by many experts. There is his signature style of splash ink landscapes during his active years. Then, the finger paintings during his mature years near the end of his life. I often wondered why his art was unique. Going through his personal notes, I found in one where Wesley mentioned three points that made him unique! He constantly strived on these areas to push for further breakthroughs. I understood two points. But the first point was puzzling to me about what he meant. I finally got my answer from a conversation…


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Ontario Place ( 1980), 18 x 24", ink and color on paper

We are fortunate when Wesley passed away, he left us works that span many years. One could trace his development. Although he had not kept his earliest works, he was good at documenting with photographs. The only period that was missing was his “Toronto period”, from 1977 to 1981. This was the time he was first exposed to the western style of painting. He studied at the Ontario College of Art. He often traveled to as far as the subway would take him to see art exhibitions. He wrote he had started to experiment with splashed ink technique during this…


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Spiritual Mountains ( № 745), 2011. 49 x 96". Ink & color on paper. Finger Painting by Wesley Tongson

Starting in 2009, at age 52, Wesley used his sobriquet, “Mountain Taoist” (Shandou Daoren). When I first came upon these works, it puzzled me. Why did he not sign with his name, what did his sobriquet mean and where did it come from? I asked my parents, they had no clue. I asked around but no one could offer me any explanation. This was a regret I felt, he was no longer here for me to ask him. But, would he have explained? Most likely not, since he knew I would not understand. As I researched into his work and…


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Exhibition view of “The Journey” at Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco. Courtesy Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco

The title is taken from the meditation workshop, Slow Dancing with Art: Mindfulness and Art. The workshop is being held at my late brother, Wesley Tongson’s exhibit. The instructor teaches techniques that engage the mind and body with the art. This immediately peeked my interest when I first read about the program. Since the workshop is in San Francisco and I am on the east coast, I cannot join. Yet, I am interested to know about the experience of the participants. I was amazed reading some of the feedbacks. …


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Spiritual Mountains 1, 2010. 48.5 x 97.5". Ink on paper ( by Wesley Tongson)

When one thinks of finger painting, usually children’s finger painting comes to mind. I had no idea painting with fingers, the work could be as strong, and yet, more powerful than painting by brush.

It was the spring of 2009 in Hong Kong, I invited Wesley out to dinner at the Shangri La Hotel at Pacific Place. Although he loved the buffet there, he did not go often on his own. So it was a treat for him. As we sat down to eat, I noticed his fingers and fingernails were black. I was horrified and upset he did not…


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Landscape 6, 2003. 39 x 49". Ink on board ( by Wesley Tongson)

In 2004, while on a trip back home, Wesley asked me to come up to view his latest works. I wondered what new breakthrough he had with his colorful splashed ink paintings. When I arrived at his apartment and saw what he was presenting to me, I was in shock. Not only did the work contain no color, they were all so black! To me, it was completely opposite of what he was working on for the past twenty years.

Wesley was happy with his new works and asked for my thoughts. I was speechless, trying to think of something…


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Mountains of Heaven (N0. 29), 2001. 28 x 38". ink & color on board ( splashed ink by Wesley Tongson)

When I used to look at art, I never felt much from the works, it was strictly visual. Usually, it was either the composition or the colors that attracted me, I liked what I saw and that was it. There was never any need to look deeper, beyond the surface. Browsing an exhibition usually was quick for me.

My brother’s art has taught me differently. In his notes, he talked about being frustrated people did not understand his works. Well, I was one of them. He painted zen landscapes and he cautioned that zen was not a theme. He had…


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Mountains of Heaven ( No.311), 1997. 38 x 70". ink & color on paper ( splashed ink by Wesley Tongson)

Inspired by the 20th century master Zhang Daqian, Wesley started to explore splashing ink while he lived in Canada (1977–1981). In his active years, from mid 1980’s to late 1990’s, he was best known for these splashed ink works. A technique he perfected from years of practice, well into mid 2000’s. Upon return to Hong Kong, Wesley took a course with Liu GuoSong, a pioneer of the modern art movement in Taiwan. He is also regarded as one of the most influential practitioners of modern Chinese art. One of my cousins recalled taking the course with Wesley to keep him…


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Bamboo 1, 1993. 38 x 58". ink & color on boards ( splashed ink by Wesley Tongson)

In Chinese painting, plants are important subjects. “The Four Gentlemen” refer to the plum, the orchid, the bamboo and the chrysanthemum. Each symbolizing esteemed characters and morals. Other than their refined beauty, they also represent the four seasons. The orchid for spring, the bamboo for summer, the chrysanthemum for autumn and the plum for winter. Naturally, Wesley painted all four subjects but there were two that he favored the most.

The bamboo was the first subject Wesley painted when he first took up traditional Chinese painting. His teacher, at the time, was a friend of our mother and she lived…


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Spiritual Mountains (No.742), 2011, 70 x 38", ink & color on paper ( Finger Painting)

This journey started shortly after my brother’s death. While cataloging his paintings, his different styles and evolvement began to emerge. I was already infatuated. But, what was the thinking behind these works? How did they evolve? I had all the questions but none of the answers.

A year later, the decision of doing a retrospective exhibition was made. I had secured the venue and a wonderful curator. I was now embarking on a project I had no experience in. The stress level was going up. I began to think about the biography for the exhibition catalog and I started my…

c Tongson

Managing my late brother’s artistic legacy. Sharing stories about him, his art and our journey. www.wesleytongson.org

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