Fifty years of Wong Shui Loong’s watercolors brightened the lobby of Philippine Cultural College in Tondo, Manila, during the June 16 opening of the retrospective of this Baguio-born artist of Chinese descent.
Eighty-nine paintings of landscapes and seascapes of the septuagenarian artist’s favorite places in the Philippines—Boracay, Punta Galera and Fisherman’s Village in Cavite—as well as Vigan and Pagudpud in Ilocos, Baguio, Banaue and Tagaytay, and the lahar country, to as far as Suzhou, Qingdao, Hainan, Guangzhou and Shengfu in China, were exhibited at the artist’s alma mater.
They represent the 89 years of existence of the school formerly known as Philippine Cultural High School, which was the venue of Wong’s first solo exhibit in 1962.
A mathematician by profession, Wong Shui Loong mastered in Mathematics at University of the Philippines after graduating with a degree of Chemical Engineering, magna cum laude, from Polytechnic Colleges of the Philippines (Central Colleges of the Philippines) in Sta. Mesa.
He taught math at Mapua Institute of Technology from 1967 until his retirement in 1996 when he was conferred Mentor of the Year by the Mathematics Department, the first time such award was given by MIT in Math and Physics.
Wong’s avowed only hobby, painting, started during his primary art classes in Chinatown. His fascination for and appreciation of watercolor was further enhanced in high school under the watercolorist Yu Kengtong, who gave him lessons at home. Yu was a classmate at the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts of Fernando Amorsolo, the first National Artist in Painting.
Kulay saTubig Hall of Famer
In between classes, Wong Shui Loong was busy painting, entering and winning in competitions such as Shell Art Contest and Art Association of the Philippines.
Adjudged as one of Top Five Watercolorists for three years, he was elevated to the Hall of Fame after his third win in Gallery Genesis’ annual Kulay sa Tubig watercolor competition in 1996.
Wong smiles when he remembers that all three paintings that gave him the recognition were all Chinese seascapes (two Fujian sceneries and one Hainan seaside scenery), and signed with his traditional Chinese name chop. The accolade had taken more meaning in that the seven judges were all Filipinos.
Wong is an active member of different art associations: Kho Shou Art Club; Watercolor Society of the Philippines; Watercolorists Association of the Philippines; Manila Watercolor Society (Agos Kulay Maynila). He has also exhibited in Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Honolulu and China, numbering around 20 solo shows.
Wong Shui Loong’s trademark watercolors show what he loves most from his country of birth and his ancestors’ hometown: seaside, blue seas, white sand and coconut trees of the Philippines; and mountain crags and ancient canals of China.
His strokes are very much influenced by traditional Chinese brushwork, although he uses the technique of watercolor painting that probably dates back to the cave paintings of Paleolithic Europe, and has been used for manuscript illumination since at least the Egyptian times, but especially in the European Middle Ages.
My husband and I first met the artist in Beijing in 1986 when he and his wife visited us while we were busy packing for our return to the Philippines after the Edsa People Power Revolution. He was together with Shi Xueleng, our Chinese colleague at Radio Peking where we worked since 1971.
We later attended his one-man exhibit at the prestigious China Art Gallery. Then and now, he has consciously introduced the Philippines to the Chinese audience through his paintings of beautiful Philippine sceneries, even as he introduces Chinese sceneries to his Filipino audience.
At the time when emotions are running high about the maritime territorial disputes between China and the Philippines, it is noteworthy to take stock of the initial efforts and continuing perseverance of artists like Wong Shui Loong to promote the artistic fusion and cultural exchanges of the two countries and the friendship between the two peoples.
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