Woman of Substance


In the first major retrospective of the work of artist Matthew Wong (1984–2019), his large, colorful canvases express his tremendous talents, desires, fears, and delights. “It’s been a joy getting to know Matthew through his paintings,” says Vivian Li, the Dallas Museum of Art’s Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art, who produced the exhibition that celebrates the six-year career of the prodigy, with a focus on Wong’s journey as artist rather than as a traumatic figure who died young. The show, which includes works in oil, ink, watercolor, and gouache, has traveled from Dallas and is now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (running through February 18, 2024).

The rich, saturated colors of Wong’s paintings burst from his canvases. With painterly magic, his combinations of shapes and hues strike an emotion of pleasure, beckoning the viewer to return for subsequent looks. A completely self-taught painter, Wong enjoyed a rapid rise in the art world before his unexpected death at age 35. “Matthew Wong: The Realm of Appearances,” which includes approximately 40 works by the artist, proves that he “was one of the most talented painters of his generation,” as Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times, stated in the newspaper.

The young artist’s ascent took a circuitous route. Wong was born in Toronto, Canada, to parents who had recently moved there from Hong Kong. When he was 7 years old, the family returned to Hong Kong. Diagnosed with depression at age 13, he moved with his family back to Toronto for his medical care, where he was also diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. Wong received a Bachelor of Arts degree in cultural studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and then returned to Hong Kong. He tried working at a series of office jobs, but evinced a far stronger interest in a variety of creative endeavors—writing poetry, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography at the City University of Hong Kong, and eventually painting.

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This story appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of MILIEU.