Artist Profile | Yuh-Shioh Wong: A Painter’s Magical World
Yuh-Shioh Wong, “Initiation,” 2015. Acrylic and Aqua-Oil on Canvas, 64 x 108 in.
The solo show of spirit-paintings by Yuh-Shioh Wong in L.A.s Night Gallery proved to be a beautiful exploration of the artist’s imaginative visions. Through soft pastel colors, gentle volumetric shapes, and the sparkling, sensitive eyes of animals, Wong revealed a world she wants us to see as she does. With past solo shows that span coasts, an award from the Chinati Foundation, a Skowegan School residency, and the Albert Alcalay Prize from Harvard, Wong has proven herself skillfull in creating colorful arrangements and mystical animals to transport us into a utopian realm.
“The places are what I see in visions and journeys to other worlds,” says Wong. “I also see some of them during meditations or during any relaxed state. I feel it’s a gift that what I see are such wonderful places and that I can share them with others. I’ve always felt a connection to animals and unseen realms.”
“These paintings are the first time I am painting directly from the experiences of what I see that is not of this world,” says Wong. “By painting them I feel I am giving the spirits bodies, which makes them very happy.”
Surfaces of Wong’s paintings have an airy quality, achieved through her use of acrylic and aqua-oil paint. There is a softness and balance of value that has a serendipitous yet measured approach. Describing her process, Wong says, “It’s a spontaneous process that is largely intuitive, and the effective use of materials has been something I have spent the past few years developing. I take great risks as I approach each picture, as I am seeing the marks as they happen, walking a tightrope between being in total control of the brush and letting the paint do its own thing. I have found that it helps to be totally focused and in the zone while I traverse the unseen realms and paint at the same time.”
In 2014, Wong took a workshop in shamanism where she learned about “shamanic journeying to the lower and upper worlds to meet spirit animals and guides,” adding structure to the journeying she had already been doing on her own.
During these shamanic workshops, several of Wong’s previous and new visions had become accessible in different ways. “I was surprised to see these beautiful and gentle creatures emerging from the forest and come towards me,” says Wong, describing how her painting, “They Told Me To Go To The Desert” developed. “They felt like an embodiment of pure love and light. They were shimmering and made of light, and I could feel their fur, which I tried to capture in the painting. I got on one of their backs and it seemed to grow wings and take me flying through the air, through rainbows, and over green valleys and mountains. I wanted the greens and yellows in the painting to reflect both the sense of place and feeling from being there. I felt such great peace that I identified with being in the desert so I went there. That is what the blue shape in the painting is – the blue I saw through its eyes.”
Pulling us into her fantasy and keeping us there, in “Flying Through Rainbows” Wong presents a colorful experience of multiple dimensions. Here she incorporates Western modern painting with inspirations from past and present artists and genres of art that also have significant spiritual elements.
“When I think of Western modern painting, I think of Giotto. I visited the Scrovegni Chapel in 1999 and had a moment with his frescoes. After seeing so many similar paintings all over Italy, I felt that his blue made his paintings different in that they registered as real space,” explains Wong. “‘Flying Through Rainbows’ is also from the first journey I had where the white animals that look like llamas then took me flying through rainbows and over green valleys and mountains. It was such an ecstatic experience that I wanted to recreate it. And the scale is conducive to an out of body experience.
“I was also first inspired by the way Morris Louis stained directly into the canvas and the way it brings attention to the magic of the paint. This painting is personal – as I painted it I even experienced how it must be to walk through rainbows, and their colors would not be how they ordinarily are.”
In addition, Wong feels influenced by a distinctly Asian sense of technique and spiritual consciousness. She says, “I paint horizontally and treat the canvas as if it is rice paper. I use traditional Chinese ink brushes and paint from a meditative state. The Chinese mystics used to wander in the mountains, absorbing the energy in nature and then channeling it into their paintings. This is similar to my process, and I have an inherent and unapologetic appreciation for beauty, for true resonance and aesthetic geometry, and in my connection to nature and all we have to learn from her.”
However the inspiration strikes, Yuh-Shioh Wong invites us into her refreshing perception, where we access not only her beautiful images but consider the existence of a new kind of artistic spiritual space.
Images ©Yuh-Shioh Wong, courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery.