Cheim & Read is pleased to present Matthew Wong: Paintings from Los Angeles 2016, which will open on May 4 and run through September 10 at the gallery’s Chelsea location. This is Wong’s second solo exhibition at the gallery, which follows Matthew Wong: Footprints in the Wind, Ink Drawings 2013–2017 (May 5–September 3, 2021), a suite of works that charted the artist’s exploration of ink wash on rice paper, materials traditional to Chinese landscape painting, some of which he began while living in Hong Kong and working in Zhongshan, China.
The works in Paintings from Los Angeles 2016 differ markedly from those widely exhibited during the artist’s lifetime. Instead of the blues which have become virtually synonymous with the artist in the public imagination, the palette and textures of these paintings reflect the super-heated atmosphere of Los Angeles, where a teeming metropolis collides with the harsh natural landscape: the Pacific ocean, mountains, and desert. Wong, a Canadian artist who was born in Toronto in 1984 and lived and worked in Edmonton, made these paintings in 2016 during a three-month stay in Los Angeles, the last stop on a visit which included New York and Michigan. The brushwork is loaded and expressionistic, revealing a distinct and compelling aspect of Wong’s practice. These works seem to combine the color of the French Fauvists with the alienated sensuality of the German expressionist Die Brücke group, like Erich Heckel or Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and the plaintive directness of Georges Rouault with the streetwise grittiness of the East Village scene of the 1980s. In one image, a man and a woman copulate on the beach under the stars. Other paintings are startling in their simplicity, with mountains, sea, and sky distilled to their essence. Some compositions are clustered with information, with nude figures walking through jungle-like settings, while others are spare, even stark, as in Infinity, where a lone grisaille figure wanders along an empty highway receding to the horizon.
The human body is similarly abstracted, such as the columnar torso of Boyhood, or the amoeba- like heads in The Desert. There are also striking views of interiors, redolent of the artist’s love of Henry Matisse and David Hockney, with windows opening to the outdoors or offering glimpses of private lives within. In other works, Wong transforms the casual hedonism long associated with Los Angeles into lyrical evocations of the figure in the landscape, a 21st-century Arcadia echoing the idealized images from 17th-century French painting, where naked humanity and nature coexist in timeless harmony as in a Garden of Eden.
Matthew Wong was a self-taught Canadian painter whose surreal, poetic motifs vaulted him to the top contemporary art in just a few short years. The artist's iconic imagery often features lone figures wandering in dappled, imaginary landscapes, and moody, emotional interiors painted from memory. In his words, these images “activate nostalgia, both personal and collective.” Wong was hailed as “one of the most talented painters of his generation” by Roberta Smith.
Born in 1984 in Toronto, he earned a BA in 2007 in cultural anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an MFA in 2013 in photography from the School of Creative Media of the City University in Hong Kong. Wong's painting practice was truncated to only six years from 2014 to his untimely death in 2019. His work, however, broadly invokes art historical precedents that range from tenth century Chinese literati painting to the Western canon including artists like Chaim Soutine, Vincent Van Gogh, Louise Bourgeois, and Yayoi Kusama.
The artist rose to international prominence in 2017 when he was featured in a number of group exhibitions in New York, including at Cheim & Read, where his work was reproduced in a review in the The New York Times. Wong's first U.S. solo exhibition opened at Karma in New York in March 2018, and was again reviewed in The New York Times and The New Yorker, among others.
In October 2019, he took his life in Edmonton, Canada. He was 35. Wong suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, Autism, and depression. His second New York solo exhibition, Blue, was scheduled to open that November, and it went ahead as planned as a posthumous memorial to the artist, with no works for sale.
The first museum exhibition of Wong's work, Blue View, organized by Julian Cox, was on view alongside Picasso's Blue Period paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. An exhibition is planned at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2022, and a forthcoming exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam will pair his work with Van Gogh's. Wong's work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.