More through his Hollywood film work than anything else perhaps, Dong Kingman [born Dong Moy Shu] was the first to make the California Style familiar across the USA. Rightly called the California style because the inevitable integration of Asian influences and American produced something new and uniquely Californian. His genius freed him from the doom of being considered “just a regional [San Francisco] painter” or “just a watercolorist.” Because of that many painters to follow had an easier time of it.
While much was/is still made of his “spanning the two worlds of Western Art-Asian Art,” the simple fact is, managing the power in that Western-Asian tension is what made his art great!
Public recognition began in San Francisco, with a very successful solo exhibit in 1936, eventually bringing him to the attention of New York critics. Service in the Depression-Era WPA artist program and then military service during World War II meant a prolonged period of perfecting his craft. This later brought him a Guggenheim fellowship and faculty appointment at Columbia University and Hunter College in New York City. Together, his New York period and Hollywood period together probably laid the groundwork for his renown. His welcome into these art worlds happened because the fine-art mavens respected him and the film-loving public enjoyed him.
The Chinese teacher who give him the apt nickname “Kingman” perhaps recognized his relentless will, to master art and to overcome obstacles to recognition. Szeto Wai, his Chinese art teacher with Paris credentials, he considered his greatest mentor. Born in Oakland, California, his family returned to China for a few years, where he began his education. Then they returned. When he began art studies in the US, he soon chose watercolor over other painting media.
After the war, the US State Department employed him further as a traveling ambassador and lecturer. Then he turned to Hollywood, to film illustration, creating backgrounds for several important films–meanwhile also painting the cityscapes, seascapes, and landscapes he loved so well! Across the USA his paintings were then shown widely and often. When came the opening of China to relations with the West after a long period of isolation, this made possible a popular solo exhibition of his work there too. Late in his career his work was also honored by public exhibitions in two Taiwan venues.
His years are 1911 to 2000; and his family life included two wives (he outlived both) and two sons.
After 2000, a major retrospective added the final touch to his reputation. Kingman is an exciting and accessible artist whose impacts were to make the California style and watercolor medium honored paths for many artists all across the country.
VOTE! Don’t forget to click on your favorite Kingman painting while you are here! The winning artwork will be posted under YOUR Pix Picks at the top of the blog page. CLH
Dong Kingman shows his moves, 15.5 minutes of narrated 1954 film of this artist painting urban scene in watercolor, first on site, then finishing the work in his studio
Stacy Walsh’s documentary about Dong Kingman, 9+ minutes; includes reactions from various artists influenced by him
James Wong Howe: “Master of Light,” tribute to Dong Kingman, 1953, 90 minutes.
[Apologies for the artworks marred by embedded copyright marks: I felt these were too good to miss and otherwise unavailable. CLH]