Martin Wong (1946-1999) was a painter whose visionary realism is among the lasting legacies of New York’s East Village art scene of the 1980s. His meticulously executed works were also a precursor of the identity-driven art scene of the 90s. Though a native of San Francisco who returned there for the last five years of his life, he had lived in New York from 1978 until 1994. His early work in San Francisco and Eureka CA drew on Eastern mythology, California scenes, and toys. He also created stage sets and theater props for an alternative theater troupe, the Angels of Light. In New York, Martin carved out a territory all his own. There he drew on the emerging street graffiti scene, the history and stereotypes of New York’s legendary Chinatown, and homoerotic themes, often combining them. Over the course of an exceptional and prolific career, Martin’s painted works were included in hundreds of group and solo exhibitions, beginning in 1982. His works continue to be the subject of dozens of exhibits, books, and featured publications to this day. Lesser known are his three collections of poetry, which he wrote between 1966 and 1968.
His appearance was as culturally complex as his art, and was usually distinguished by a Fu Manchu mustache and a cowboy hat. His personal artistic talents and interests were eclectic as well. A master ceramicist, he was also exceptionally skilled (and largely self-taught) in such diverse areas as Asian painting, calligraphy and decorative arts, American antiques, and graffiti art, which he acquired in such abundance that in 1993 he donated 300 works to the Museum of the City of New York. Martin painted until the last day of his life, passing from complications related to AIDS.