In The Journey Home, we see a story unfold across three panels; a lone figure seemingly embarks on a journey, and sailing across the ocean in the central panel, to be greeted by two figures standing beside a white cottage on the far right, welcoming the traveller home. The surface of each panel is richly textured, showcasing thick layers of paint that create intense depth and a rich sense of movement. The figures – a key recurring motif across Wong’s oeuvre – add a deeply human sense of narrative and story. A rare work by the artist, and possibly the only triptych Wong created – The Journey Home presents a unique narrative that references the artist’s bicultural upbringing, offering us a glimpse into Matthew Wong’s world while capturing a universal sense of what it means to come home.
Matthew Wong was born in 1984 in Toronto, Canada. He grew up moving between Hong Kong and Toronto every few years, relocating to Hong Kong when he was 7, and then back to Toronto when he was 15. After earning a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 2007, and then an M.F.A. in Photography from the City University of Hong Kong School of Creative Media, Wong began exploring painting in earnest around 2012. In a 2014 interview with Neoteric Art, he recalled, “I just bought a cheap sketch pad along with a bottle of ink and made a mess every day in my bathroom randomly pouring ink onto pages— smashing them together—hoping something interesting was going to come out of it. Pretty soon that was the only activity that sustained me in my daily routine.”
Color plays a critical role in Wong’s work; the sun, sea and sky are rendered in contrasting hues that are distinct from one panel to the next. As John Yau vividly described in Hyperallergic, “Wong makes myriad lines, dots, daubs, and short, lush brushstrokes, eventually arriving at an imaginary landscape that tilts away from the picture plane at an odd angle. A painterly cartographer, Wong literally feels his way across the landscape, dot by dot, paint stroke by paint stroke. […] Each dot and line is distinct, and every bit of the red landscape is filled. Our attention shifts back and forth between landscape (depiction) and brushstroke (the single mark). It is impossible to detect any irony or boredom within the marks. The changing of their size, direction, and colour underscores Wong’s active engagement with the painting.” This characteristic richness of texture is beautifully showcased in The Journey Home , as land, sea and sky are rendered with thick impasto, using different treatments and combinations of colour to create three landscapes that are visually linked yet definitively distinct.
As Will Heinrich wrote for the New York Times, “At first I thought these complicated constructs of color and pattern were spoiled by the single tiny person Mr. Wong drops into most of them… But in fact they’re both psychologically and formally crucial.” By including a small figure in each panel of the triptych, Wong creates a narrative of homecoming, allowing us to imagine a progression of events that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. The anonymous figures provide a visual focal point, grounding his landscapes while creating a sense of the grandiosity and beauty of nature.
In an interview with online magazine Altermodernists, Matthew Wong stated, “Art is all-encompassing in my daily life. When I’m not working, I’m at the library doing research into the history of art, figuring out where I can fit into the greater dialogue between artists throughout time, or on the internet looking at art-related websites and engaging in dialogue on social media with artists and art-world figures around the world.” Wong’s work has drawn comparisons to that of Vincent Van Gogh, Yayoi Kusama, Edvard Munch, Shitao and others, demonstrating the exceptional dexterity with which internalized lessons learned from the great artists that preceded him.
The Journey Home is a beautifully intimate triptych by the artist, exploring a subject that was deeply personal to Matthew Wong’s own background and upbringing. Journeys may be spiritual as well as physical, and this painting invites us to explore the visual tactility and richness of the painted surface, as well as contemplate the symbolism of each figure in the context of the overall composition.