Modern Times – Andrew Tong

Mine, Andrew Tong, Acrylic on board, 20 x 16 inches.

Remember Charlie Chaplin and his movie “Modern Times”?

Andrew Tong  takes inspiration for his new series of paintings to look social ills like  Greed, Selfishness, Ignorance, Self-Delusion  of the 21st Century for his latest surrealist paintings. He challenges the viewer to re-examine society’s stated values and take measure of what really is going on in the world we live in.

In the painting, Mine, Tong shows a little boy packing a pistol on his hip – presumably a toy one – but the face has a decidedly adult cast to it, and he seems quite ready to pull out the gun and shoot. Does this symbolize that adults are behaving in a childlike manner where it suffices to say “Mine” whether ownership lies with the individual or not?

And does the child, surrounded by sheriff-like stars, one red, one white, one blue, represent America, the aggressor, laying claim to the world – if not owning it physically, at least controlling it through guns and explosive tactics?
The car in the background is in flames. The big orange sun is setting  – or has it turned orange from the fumes of carbon emissions, conflict or some other man-made disaster?

In the upper right hand corner there are some symbols from the sky – a new moon, two different stars. Rather, these are state symbols – the Star of David of Israel, the New moon with star of Turkey (also appears in the flags of Turkmenistan and Tunisia) and the third symbol is not so clear. These provide a clue to the areas of the world in which greed, both corporate and national, play greatly in their destiny.

Over the surface of the painting, insects crawl – aggressive ones – the wasp ants, and a dung beetle – caught in trompe l’oeil paint. These represent the survivors of change, those who can adapt to their rapidly changing environment despite the catastrophes that occur.

These are not easy paintings. They require engagement. Though the separate parts are painted realistically, each of the individual parts relates to a greater whole. They hold together like a cynical poem with an elliptical feeling, where the viewer has to bring them together. The overall impression is disquieting and meant to be so.

Andrew Tong’s show is on now and runs until  February 26th at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver. It’s a major exhibition with twenty-one of his newest work and  well worth the visit. Check out the other paintings on the web-site:


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