Art ran through the veins of Tyrus Wong from very small, when his father encouraged him to do calligraphy by dipping the brushes in water and painting on old newspapers for lack of money to buy paper and ink. Self-proclaimed as a "lousy student", the artist of Chinese origin and nationalized American touched all the disciplines he met and in each of them left his mark: painting, animation, calligraphy, illustration, ceramics, lithography, scenography, drawings of storyboards, designs of Christmas greetings, tableware, murals and, in the last 40 years of his life, creator of fantastic comets with animal motifs that he himself tested on the dock in Santa Monica (California) on the fourth Saturday of every month.
Such was the passion for the art of Tyrus Wong that he wanted to instill in his daughters in the same way that he received it: without coloring books "so that they would not feel corseted by lines drawn by other people", as he himself acknowledged. He designed the family home, the garden and was always the creator of original Christmas gifts from the most unlikely items such as bottles and boxes of cookies.
Until the last years of his life, his artistic value and his contribution to the animation movies, but with a life as long as the 106 years that saw it, Tyrus Wong He is considered today as the artist responsible for some of the best known images of American popular culture. Recognized by the Disney fiction factory as 'Legend' in 2001 for his contribution to the creation of Bambi's character thanks to his sketches – which marked a before and after in animation -, twelve years later, in 2012, the Disney Family Museum He also presented a retrospective of his work, entitled 'Water to paper. Painting to the sky ', in tribute to his first sketches of child on newspapers.
Wong Gen Yeo, his real name, was born on October 25, 1910 in an agricultural village in Guangdong Province, just before the fall of Chinese empire. In 1920, just 10 years old and like many other compatriots looking for better future prospects, he and his father embarked to travel to U.S leaving behind his mother and his sister, whom they never saw again. They traveled with false identities in the hope of circumventing the Exclusion Law that restricted the arrival of Asian migrants to America.
But a few years earlier, in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake had opened a legal breach because a lot of municipal documents, including birth and immigration records, were destroyed, so many Chinese newcomers claimed that they were born in San Francisco before the fire and had the right to bring their relatives , something known as the 'paper children' when passing them off.
A small, but at the same time difficult process, marked the fate of the American dream: US immigration officials subjected the Chinese to a kind of separate inquisition on arrival to ensure they were who they claimed to be. On December 30, 1920, after a month at sea, the Wong arrived at the Angel Island Immigration Station. The father traveled as a merchant named Look Get; his son as Tai Yow.
Because Mr. Wong had previously lived in the United States, he was able to pass Immigration quickly. But as a newcomer, little Gen Yeo was detained for almost a month and was the only child among the immigrants imprisoned there.
On January 27, 1921, in the presence of an interpreter and a stenographer, Gen Yeo, posing as Tai Yow, was interrogated by three inspectors. He was well prepared and answered without error and passed the test. He joined his father in Sacramento, and there a school teacher Americanized the false name Tai Yow by Tyrus, being known from that moment and forever as Tyrus Wong.
Mr. Wong and his son still had to separate once again, when the father moved to Los Angeles to look for work without being able to take Tyrus, who stayed to live alone in a boarding house in Sacramento while going to primary school. Some years later, when Tyrus studied Secondary, a teacher realized his talent for drawing. Wong then obtained a scholarship from the Otis Institute of Art and took advantage of the nearby Central Library of Los Angeles to study the art of the Song dynasty in his spare time, since he had to take on various occasional jobs to make ends meet, from waiter at the Chinatown restaurant called Dragon's Den, until you pick asparagus in the field. His vocation, however, had awakened in such a way that when he finished his scholarship he refused to return to the Secondary classes.
His father, on the other hand, managed to collect the tuition of 90 dollars, a small fortune at that time, so that he could continue studying at the Otis Institute, where he was the youngest student. There he studied for at least five years, working simultaneously as a school custodian to finish graduating with the highest honors. Shortly after his father died leaving the young man Tyrus Wong completely alone.
Wong experienced in those years a meteoric rise as a young modernist painter. He participated in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in 1932, and later mounted shows in New York and Paris. He and fellow artists Hideo Date and Benji Okubo attracted the attention and attention of critics as they began to shape the cultural and artistic life of Los Angeles.
Unknowingly, Wong became one of the first artists to infuse Chinese aesthetics into modern American art. His landscapes inspired by the Song dynasty were from that moment on his personal stamp, to the point that the beauty of Wong's oriental influence paintings caught the attention of Walt Disney and became the inspiration for the classic animated film 'Bambi '
This part of your story begins because Tyrus Wong, newly married, he needed a stable job, so he joined Disney in 1938 as a kind of intermediary that created thousands of drawings that gave life to the animated sequences. When at the end of the 30s Wong made sketches of Mickey Mouse and he learned that Disney was adapting the novel 'Bambi, a life in the forest' to the cinema, by the Austrian writer Felix Salten on a fawn whose mother is killed by a hunter, saw his opportunity.
The young but at the same time every day better artist saw before himself a possibility of an outdoor stage, and considering himself a landscape painter, he did not miss that train that in the end so little recognition would bring him. Relying on the paintings of landscapes of the Song dynasty, it represented in watercolors and cakes a series of scenes of the nature that were changing, with funds subtly suggested by a blow or two of the brush.
"Walt Disney he went crazy for them ", he would later make sure in the book 'Before the animation begins: the art and life of the artists of sketches inspired by Disney' (1996). Thanks to those drawings Tyrus Wong he was unofficially promoted to the rank of inspirational draftsman.
But in reality he was the designer, the person they went to when there were doubts about color, how to place something, or even about music and special effects. Wong spent two years painting the illustrations that would shape all aspects of the Bambi character, in which his influence is unmistakable, but the disappointment came when in the credits of the film his name appears, quite at the end, as a mere background artist.
In 1941, after a strike by animators at DisneyHe is fired, but because of his character, he thought it had been such an enriching experience for him that he left without making a sound. He started working at Warner Bros in 1942 and also did it at other Hollywood studios for more than a quarter of a century and participating in over a hundred action movies.
Wong became a United States citizen in 1946 and had time to combine his film work with the design of Christmas cards for Hallmark and to paint elegant designs with Asian airs on tableware, now highly valued by collectors.
Personally, Tyrus Wong He enjoyed half a century of marriage with Ruth Kim, with whom he had three daughters: Kay, Tai-ling and Kim. He retired in 1968 and from that moment he specialized in designing comets. He spent the next 40 years drawing them, building them, painting them by hand and flying them, with designs that clearly had the influence of his childhood in China. On the fourth Saturday of each month, Wong went to the beaches of Santa Monica to fly with his family and more and more friends: butterflies, pandas and flocks of cranes and swallows to the sky, above the Pacific Ocean that he himself crossed. from China when I was a child.
During the last 15 years of the life of his wife Ruth, ill with dementia, Wong left his job to take care of her. After his death in 1995, at age 85, slowly Tyrus regained his artistic creativity and remained very active until after 90 years of painting, drawing and designing ceramics daily.
In 2015, the filmmaker Pamela Tom wrote and directed a film about the life of Tyrus Wong, titled 'Tyrus'. The film won the audience awards at the 2016 Asian-American Film Festival in Boston, the 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival and the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival.
Tyrus Wong he died on December 30, 2016 at age 106. Despite the marginalization to which Chinese migrants in the United States were subjected for a long time and of spending a large part of their career being unknown to the public, the unanimous recognition of their work has placed them as one of the Chinese artists. most famous Americans of the twentieth century.