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Matthew Wong (1984-2019)
Matthew Wong (1984-2019)
Matthew Wong (1984-2019)
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Matthew Wong (1984-2019)
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Matthew Wong (1984-2019)

Luminous Night

Details
Matthew Wong (1984-2019)
Luminous Night
oil on canvas
72 x 48 in. (182.9 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 2017.
Provenance
KARMA, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2018

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Associate Vice President, Specialist

Lot Essay

An equally serene and sprightly snapshot into the sanctuary of the natural world, Matthew Wong’s Luminous Night ventures into the unknown clearing where forest and stars align, erupting in a symphony of texture and color. In his expert juxtaposition of smooth strokes with impastoed feeling, the artist coaxes the unseen out of the gem-toned oil paint, cautiously inviting himself into the undisturbed nocturnal movements of the waving emerald grass, the winking golden fireflies, and the wise and steadfast tree. The smooth S-shaped swoop of Wong’s paintbrush brings the placid cobalt pond to life, in it floating a few ably-applied orange stipples suggesting the swift movements of fish. Swirling floral tendrils in the foreground dance and stretch their way up to the towering tree branches adorned with amethyst-hued leaves, parting for a special peek like a curtain slowly revealing its stage.

And what takes place on tonight’s stage is an orchestra of saturated colors harmonizing with one another to create the natural forms that rest in the peaceful night, conjuring in the viewer’s imagination a lullaby of nocturnal sounds: maybe a rustle of leaves and an occasional splash of water from a dancing fish overlaid with the staccato chirps of crickets or a solitary hoot of an owl hidden from sight. These are the tranquil, postcard moments captured in Wong’s richly textured, busy canvases. There is an uncanny familiarity in the snapshots that Wong depicts, as though the viewer were able to scroll through his or her photo library and find a similar shot taken on a recent evening stroll or captured from a camping trip a few years back. Wong shares a view of a singular moment, prompting observers to discover familiar and nostalgic connections nestled in their memories.

Wong absorbed the histories and methods of painting from endless clicking through the digital pages of Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook, and from flipping through hundreds of physical pages of the reference books at the Hong Kong Public Library. In 2010, the artist enrolled in the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong, where he received a master’s degree in photography. Though the artist slowly grew disenchanted with photography and made the transition into drawing and painting, the capturing-the-moment quality of Wong’s pictures is supremely present, a nod to his outgrown educational past. Many critics and viewers have paralleled both Wong’s life and style to that of the post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh. Wong diligently studied his predecessor’s work, even painting his own Starry Night rendition in 2019. Wong’s artistic birth in the digital age greatly benefitted from infinite access to inspiration, and countless other influences can be observed in the artist’s oeuvre as well. From this confluence and never-ending stream of access to library books and digital research stems the familiarity observed in the artist’s paintings, where viewers can cite artistic influences spanning generations: the landscape scrolls of ancient Chinese calligraphers; the stillness of Lois Dodd; the subtly surreal pastorals of Arthur Dove; the clashing textural patterns of Édouard Vuillard; the melancholy solitude of Vilhelm Hammershoi. One sees the foundations of Wong’s work in the meticulous and repetitive dabs reminiscent of Pointillists like Georges Seurat and contemporaries like Jennifer Guidi. But there is a subtle looseness to the mark-making as well, a more carefree application of paint that connects Wong’s oeuvre to the textural brushstrokes of Jonas Wood, Alex Katz and David Hockney. As critic Eric Sutphin observed in his review of the artist’s inaugural show Karma in 2018, “Wong can be considered a kind of nouveau Nabi, a descendant of Post-Impressionist painters like Édouard Vuillard and Paul Sérusier. Like his forebears, he synthesizes stylized representations, bright colors, and mystical themes to create rich, evocative scenes. His works, despite their ebullient palette, are frequently tinged with a melancholic yearning” (E. Sutphin, “Matthew Wong,” Art in America, 1 June 2018).

The American artist James Whistler famously coined the term “nocturne painting” to describe an artistic style depicting scenes evocative of the nighttime or how subjects appear in a veil of light, the absence of direct light or twilight. Wong’s Luminous Night presents a bright, contemporary rendition of these dreamy, pensive scenes. The dabs of yellow impasto flank together in Wong’s composition, paralleling the gold flecks that trickle down through the night sky of Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket. And yet, while the title of the present lot references the after-hours, the dark cool tones are lit up by the dashes of warm yellow and sporadic bright orange dabs, blurring the boundaries between day and night. Has the sun just set behind the horizon, welcoming in the dark and quiet night? Or is the diffusing light a result of the sun preparing to rise, switching to the diurnal rhythms of the daily cycle? This dichotomously lit landscape is both structured and untethered, ambiguous and graphic, an exploding composition of dots, dabs, wiggles and lines, executed harmoniously in vibrant hues. The imagined snapshot simultaneously pays homage to traditional nocturnes while forging a new way forward, unveiling the speckled visual symphony that lies right before the human eye, yet forever eluding perception. Rather than painting in a lone figure, Wong leaves the viewer, him or herself, to be that very sojourner, embarking on a path that just might lead beyond the stars.

Lot Essay

Matthew Wong (1984-2019) - Luminous Night

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