About Wesley, the artist, and the journey of a brother and sister

Mountains of Heaven 3, 1994. 38 x 70.5". ink & color on paper ( splashed ink by Wesley Tongson)

I am dedicating this blog to my brother, Wesley Tongson (1957–2012), a Chinese ink artist from Hong Kong who specialized in splashed ink earlier on and later painted with his fingers and nails. I wish to share stories about him and his art, so that one can have a better understanding of him and his incredible work. In doing so, this is also about the journey of a brother and sister.

Wesley was a very private person. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15 and he struggled with it his entire adult life. Because of this illness, he became increasingly withdrawn and paranoid. For many years before his death, he became disconnected with family members and long time friends. Art was his life, his one true love, the one thing that drove him and he worked relentlessly at it. His dedication to his craft is much to be admired. He felt he could not talk to me about his work since I did not understand. To be honest, he was right and he kind of gave up on me. I am more of a visual person, when I look at art and I like what I see, I have no need to analyze or understand the thinking behind the work.

We often take those we love for granted and we tend to focus on all the faults rather than the good. This was the case with my brother. We were not particularly close. We had lived apart for many years since I went away to school in 1970. Although I visited home often throughout the years, all I could see of my brother was his difficult relationship with my parents. I even became resentful of him. For years, I would only complain about him.

When Wesley passed away unexpectedly in 2012. I was at a lost, saddled with guilt and regrets. What I regretted the most was not taking the time to talk to him more about his art and making more efforts to understand him. I needed to look deeper, to understand the thinking behind his work. In late 2013, my parents and I decided to put together a major retrospective exhibition to celebrate Wesley’s life and to pay tribute to his work. This project was as much for him as it was for me. I needed to heal and it was the best way to do it. The preparation took almost one year, it was during this process and through his art that I came to know my brother better, grew closer to him and began to understand the thinking behind his work.

I hope that the stories I share here will help give life to his work.