Jesse Birch, Nanaimo Art Gallery curator, hangs a print by B.C. artist Anna Wong. An exhibit of 70 of the artist’s works opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

'Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads' features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

In its next exhibition, the Nanaimo Art Gallery is sharing the life story of an underappreciated B.C. artist.

From Dec. 4 to Feb. 7 the NAG presents Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads, a touring show organized by the Burnaby Art Gallery that examines the oeuvre of Vancouver-raised painter and printmaker Anna Wong.

“She is extremely underappreciated,” NAG curator Jesse Birch said. “She was doing a lot of important work at the time that a lot of her peers were recognized … and it was a really important project for the Burnaby Art Gallery to try to bring a new investigation into her work and celebrate this under-regarded artist.”

Birch suggested one reason Wong is overlooked is that she didn’t stay in Vancouver. While she was born and raised in the city’s Chinatown in 1930, Wong left to study Chinese brush painting in Hong Kong and after returning home to attend the Vancouver School of Art with a focus on abstraction and printmaking, she moved to New York City to continue her studies and eventually became an art professor. In the 1980s Wong came back to B.C. where she set up a studio on Quadra Island. She died in 2013.

The exhibition features more than 70 items displayed chronologically, starting with her earlier brush paintings, then delving into her printmaking, including lithography and etching, and concluding with her textile work, an interest Birch noted came to Wong late in life and harkens back to her youth working in her parents’ tailor shop.

The exhibition also features items taken from Wong’s studio, including art-making tools and trinkets from her travels. Among those curiosities are stone carvings, religious iconography and a pig skull salvaged from a family feast.

“They’re basically different objects that had some kind of meaning for her,” Birch said. “Although we don’t have a clear idea what the meaning was for her, they were strong enough for her to save so they must have influenced her in some way.”

Birch said Wong’s practice is all about moving through the world and translating that experience through her art, a concept that suits the gallery’s ongoing thematic inquiry.

“One of the main reasons we wanted to bring this show over here was because of the way it ties so nicely with our question ‘what moves?’ and the pleasure of following an artist’s trajectory though their development and in the movements in art and also through their travels through their life story,” he said.

WHAT’S ON … Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads comes to the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., from Dec. 4 to Feb. 7, 2021.

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