What! You’ve never heard of artist Tyrus Wong? The Asian Art Museum and CAAMFest will honor this living legend starting Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Unless you caught his wonderful retrospective at the Walt Disney Family Museum two years back, Tyrus Wong is a name that most people can’t place readily. At 105 years young, this pioneering Chinese American artist has touched all of us through his innovative art for films like Rebel Without A Cause and Walt Disney Studio’s classic 1942 animation film Bambi. Wong’s impressionistic conceptual art grabbed the attention of Walt Disney himself and Wong became essentially responsible for the evocative style that we associate with the beloved Bambi and he created much of the film’s background landscapes. But that was just the beginning of this exceptional artist’s diverse artistic career as a painter, illustrator, calligrapher, muralist, designer, Hollywood sketch artist, ceramicist, and kite maker. At 105, he is Americaʼs oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. On Wednesday, March 9th, at 4:00PM in the Asian Art Museum’s Peterson Room, CAAM (the Center for Asian American Media), the Asian Art Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation will ensure that Wong is long remembered in the Bay Area. San Francisco District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar will present a Tyrus Wong Day proclamation in honor of the artist. The next day, CAAMFest 2016 celebrates Wong on the big screen with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus, selected as the opening night film.
On Wednesday, Tyrus, will also be signing one of his unidentified large paintings, which had been unattributed for decades, “Chinese Jesus.” The 85 x 75 inches painting was rediscovered recently by CAAM board member David Lei in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Wong will be joined by his daughter, Kim, and Tyrus director, Pamela Tom. The painting will be on display at the Asian Art Museum on Thursday, March 10th, for one day only. The public is invited to view the signed piece during regular museum hours and during CAAMFest’s Opening Night Gala, which takes place at the Asian that evening at 9:30 p.m., following the screening.
“That it was first in Los Angeles in late 1920’s and made its way here is an amazing discovery,” explained CAAM, Executive Director, Stephen Gong, who spoke with ARThound at the CAAMFest press conference in February. “This came to our attention some 5 years ago. Tyrus was in the process of being made and our board member, David Lei, was poking around the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, looking at old opera scenery backdrops, and his memory was triggered about a painting he had seen as child in a local church of a Jesus that he felt might have been done by the same artist. He did some research and spoke with scholar Mark Johnson at San Francisco State, who told him that Tyrus Wong was around at the time and might be able to identify the artist. When Tyrus’ daughter, who was about 80, spoke with him about it, he said it ‘might be’ one of his. I was flabbergasted. It took David several months to investigate this. The next time Tyrus came to town, he brought him to the Jesus painting, which he had found, and it was confirmed.”
Right now, Stephen Gong explained, the painting is “in between lives.” The Chinese Methodist Church in Chinatown stills owns the painting but they have loaned it to the Asian Art Museum, where CAAM board member, David Lei, is also on the board. Lei is trying to drum up interest to get it restored and to place it in a Bay Area museum, like the de Young or the Asian.
“Tyrus could well have been a major figure early on, but no Chinese artist in the 1930’s was going to be recognized by the art establishment especially when it wasn’t recognizing West Coast artists of any background, ” added Stephen Gong.
Pamela Tom’s Tyrus opens CAAMFest 2016: Tom’s emotionally inspiring documentary paints a beautifully intimate portrait of Tyrus Wong, eloquently exploring his childhood arrival at the Angel Island Immigration Station, the evolution of his voice and legacy and the formation of what he views as his greatest achievement, his family.
CAAMFest 2016─an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music opens this Thursday, celebrating its 34th year with a program that celebrates and explores the breadth of the Asian and human experience. This year’s program all things Asian includes no less than 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films and thoughtfully-curated events that run for 8 days in various locales in San Francisco and then move on to Oakland for a long final weekend. Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016
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