Andrew Tong

Dreaming of a blue sky, Andrew Tong, Oil on panel 36×36 inches

With all good intentions, I meant to write this weeks ago to whet your appetite for an exhibition that is opening on Thursday (Dec. 10, 6:30 – 8:30 pm) at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver. Now the opening is upon us and the exhibition is already up. It’s really worth a good look, so if you get a chance, it’s at #1 – 258 East 1st Avenue, just north of Northern Way in Vancouver

I had been in for a bit of business and took the time to see the show that was on. There were a few of Tong’s paintings up with other gallery artists’ work at the back of the gallery and they held me transfixed with the detail and the ability of Andrew Tong to reach, retain and define that space between reality and subconscious. Now you will be able to see a full solo show of his works. It’s a great opportunity.

Andrew Tong, you may remember, was one of the artists in the Drawing Show in August, who exhibited small but very precise illustrations of nursery tales with a morbid or violent twist – nothing so overt as a graphically described horror, but there always seemed to be a menace of some ill-fortune underneath and waiting to happen.

It is rare that an artist of minute illustrations manages to also paint large scale canvases but it was exactly this that held me riveted to the works I saw.  There is so much going on in them and the workmanship is so fine and detailed that there is lots to absorb one’s attention for a first look and then plenty of things to discover or rediscover when you come back to look again.

Enemy of the State, Andrew Tong, 48×48 inches inches Oil on panel

In Enemy of the State, a child holds a toy pistol to his hostage teddy bear. There are ambiguities to ponder. Is it a girl or a boy? Who is the child looking at?

The child has a pin stating “I am 3” but the eyes of the child are old with sadness,  disabused of his childhood through war perhaps or maybe a surfeit of television, news or family violence. He is interrupted in his activity, suspended from the fatal shot of his blindfolded hostage. So the question must be asked, is it the toy bear that is the enemy or the child who perpetrates the age-old practice of man which is war?And in the detail of the khaki-coloured  background symbolic of military, there is a small drawing of a city scape. Are those the twin towers standing proudly, an air plane barreling towards them, unconscious of their upcoming destruction?

In Dreaming of a Blue Sky (above) two children stand to military attention before an old house. In the grey sky, bombers fly; a warhead stands like a pillar, equally at attention. Bombs are exploding at the horizon.  Is it smoke from explosions or just bad weather that colours the sky? The sad looking children all dressed in Sunday best are waiting for the skies to clear, perhaps dreaming of a day when the airborne violence will no longer be a part of their daily lives. His imagery is at once overt and challenging and yet understated so that you miss something if you don’t take the time to seek it out.

On a more illustrative bent, Vespula vulgaris serves to show Tong’s awesome draftsman-like abilities  in realism;  and similarly, Origins of Violence, although the first of these is only 20  x 24 and the second is 36 x 36 inches, the difference in scale being critical as a measure of difficulty, and a tribute to Tong’s versatility in being master of both.

Tong chooses smooth surfaces (oil on panel, plate or hot-pressed papers) to achieve the detail. His small drawings can be magnified and still appear perfectly executed; his oils are built up with detail through glazing. There is great mix of realism and abstract. There is a stillness, trapping an image in time, and yet activity like bombs descending or planes flying past.  There is smoothness and yet texture (like the distressed wall in Origins of Violence). And yet all of these contrasts seem effortless. It’s the same effortlessness of a Gold medal skater flying perfectly through a quad jump – you might not even notice the degree of excellence achieved in a split second but through years of  practice,  if someone didn’t point it out.

I invite you to explore the richness of Tong’s imagination. There are plenty of images on his page of the gallery web site at:

Take time to delve into the metaphors. allusions connections he makes; enjoy the craftsmanship and detail. And if you are in the Vancouver area, make sure you see the show.  Photographs are wonderful if you can’t get there, but seeing the real thing in the proper scale is a hundred times better and this will be an exhibition not-to-be-missed.


December 10th.

I had understood that there would be a larger show, and in fact it is the smaller illustrations that are being shown at this time. I thought about revising the text, above, to reflect that and have decided to leave it alone. It flows.

The main thing I wanted to do with this post is to bring Andrew Tong to your attention; and I think I’ve accomplished that.

I like his work and think it is not only visually interesting in subject matter and iconography and there is also a great degree of finesse in the  craftsmanship.  We’ll just have to wait for a show of the larger works. Hopefully there will be one!

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One Response to “Andrew Tong”

  1. lesliepaints Says:

    Thank-you for sharing these Kristin. I love it when you share the art places you go and I find this post fascinating. I have not run across Tong’s work previously so this view of two of his paintings is priceless. They are so creepy but oh so good. I like how he divides space and how he gets our attention with realistic separate renderings of the players and subject material. I get the same feeling viewing his work that I do when I watch a good mime work and that’s saying something.

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