Martin Wong

Collaborated Project:

City As Studio | Exhibition

A distinctive face in the San Francisco Bay art scene throughout his college years and for a decade thereafter—during which time he also produced designs for performance art groups the Cockettes and Angels of Light—artist and ceramicist Martin Wong (b. 1946, Portland, Oregon, U.S.; d. 1999, San Francisco, California, U.S.) moved to New York City in 1978. There, he devoted himself to painting, producing vivid portrayals of Chinatown and the crumbling Lower East Side in which flights of fancy met naturalistic detail. In these images, Wong’s strong decorative impulse and his interest in exploring different forms of written and symbolic language, such as sign language and graffiti, are exemplified.

Best known for the canvases he made in collaboration with Nuyorican poet and playwright Miguel Piñero, Wong was also a connoisseur of graffiti art. In 1993, he donated an extensive collection of graffiti and related material to the Museum of the City of New York. Included in this gift—and in the Martin Wong Papers, now held by the Fales Library at New York University—are a number of graffiti artists’ blackbooks. Wong’s last show during his lifetime, at New York’s P.P.O.W Gallery in 1998, coincided with a retrospective organized by the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, and the Illinois State University Galleries. He died in San Francisco from an AIDS-related illness in 1999.

Martin Wong in his Ridge Street apartment, 1984. Photo © Baird Jones. Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P•P•O•W, New York.