December 31, 2016

"His first art teacher was his father, who trained him nightly in calligraphy by having him dip a brush in water and trace ghostly characters on newspaper."

"They could not afford ink or drawing paper.... From 1936 to 1938, Mr. Wong was an artist for the Works Progress Administration, creating paintings for libraries and other public spaces.... Mr. Wong... joined Disney in 1938 as an 'in-betweener,' creating the thousands of intermediate drawings that bring animated sequences to life.... Painstaking, repetitive and for Mr. Wong quickly soul-numbing, it is the assembly-line work of animation...  A reprieve came in the late 1930s, when Mr. Wong learned that Disney was adapting 'Bambi, a Life in the Woods'... In trying to animate the book, Disney had reached an impasse. The studio had enjoyed great success in 1937 with its animated film 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' a baroque production in which every detail of the backgrounds — every petal on every flower, every leaf on every tree — was meticulously represented. In an attempt to use a similar style for 'Bambi,' it found that the ornate backgrounds camouflaged the deer and other forest creatures on which the narrative centered. Mr. Wong spied his chance.... Invoking the exquisite landscape paintings of the Song dynasty (A.D. 960–1279), he rendered in watercolors and pastels a series of nature scenes that were moody, lyrical and atmospheric — at once lush and spare — with backgrounds subtly suggested by a stroke or two of the brush. 'Walt Disney went crazy over them'..."

From "Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106."

Also: I did not know before reading that obituary that during WW2, some Chinese Americans chose to wear buttons to communicate that they were not Japanese:
Mere days after Pearl Harbor, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco started issuing identification cards, and Chinese Americans began wearing buttons and badges with phrases like “I am Chinese” on them.

25 comments:

William said...

On the bright side he missed out on the Japanese occupation of China, and he wasn't the type who would have prospered during the Cultural Revolution. Still, at the end of a long and prosperous life, it's important to headline how racist (i.e. white) America damaged his life.

tim maguire said...

Excellent point, William. And based on the excerpt, "thwarted" is factually inaccurate. Sometimes I think somebody needs to buy the Times' editors a dictionary.

MisterBuddwing said...

LIFE magazine, December 1941: "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese":

http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/foster/lifemag.htm

(Intended, I presume, as a public service.)

Oso Negro said...

@MisterBuddWing - If only we still had responsible journalists, they could publish guides to help impassioned Americans distinguish jihadis from normal Muslims in the Dearborn mall. Or respectable black teens from riotous thugs on the Loop in Chicago.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Trace ghostly characters on newspaper? Who fucking writes like that?

Yeah, and fucking Abraham Lincoln was so poor he had to practice on a rectangle of tree bark because he couldn't afford an iPhone.

Michael K said...

Wartime movies often used Chinese actors to play Japanese. Some of them became quite well known.

The Times is noted for its heavy breathing about leftist's favorite themes.

Paul Snively said...

As if it weren't bad enough that I lived to see Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in The Incredibles, and then the end of the 9 Old Men.

Getting old sucks, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

chuck said...

Apparently Tyrus Wong's greatest achievement was to be thwarted by racial bias. That's the NY Times for you, all politics all the time.

holdfast said...

Well, China was our WW II ally, and was suffering horrible depredations at the hands of the Jap Army. Jap troops were routinely bayoneting prisoners and starving Western women and children in Chnagi Prison.

Fernandinande said...

Thwarted by Racial Bias

The article actually documents exactly the opposite: he was treated fairly and even generously, he was quite successful at his profession and the only attempted, and unsuccessful, thwarting was about illegally immigrating.

On “Bambi,” Mr. Wong’s name appears, quite far down in the credits, as a mere “background” artist.

That's what he was.

How many other Disney cartoonists can you name?

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

But because of the marginalization to which Asian-Americans were long subject, he passed much of his career unknown to the general public.

Yes, unlike the innumerable "Hollywood studio artists, painters, printmakers, calligraphers, and greeting card illustrators" who have risen to fame and fortune, whose names have become household words.

Hey, I like the guy's work. Really. Much to admire in the minimalist calligraphic art, just as good music is as much about spaces as about the notes played.

For the NYT the story title "Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106" says a lot.

JAORE said...

Per the NYT, he had two great accomplishments in his 106 years:
1. Thwarted by racism, and 2 (a distant second) background painting on Bambi.

Well thank God he was thwarted by racism or the Times might not even have noted his passing.

Sam L. said...

I knew about those buttons, but then I am older than you.

Mark said...

It is characteristic of the left to be totally oblivious to their doing exactly what they accuse their opponents of doing. In this case, it is a bunch of white guys at the NYT exploiting in death a minority for their own political purpose.

rhhardin said...

My handwriting was terrible. That's why I'll never be Chinese.

rhhardin said...

At least it wasn't money laundering that he made his name in.

Rusty said...

What's funny is that if you hang around orange county for any length of time you see a lot of Chinese people. Apparently the Yuan is doing so well that Chinese holders of American equities are selling them and buying homes and businesses in California.

tcrosse said...

Speaking of being thwarted by racism, how hard is it for an Asian to get into an Ivy League school ?

Zach said...

B plus movie blog has an extensive breakdown of Bambi:

https://bplusmovieblog.com/2012/08/30/ranking-disney-1-bambi-1942/

The backgrounds really are outstanding. Something that is really missing from modern 3D animation -- you frequently notice that the background is very sparse and uninteresting. The problem of camouflaging the characters is worse in 3D, and there's less opportunity for artistic distortion or mood-setting.

Fritz said...

Italians in Northern California were also subjected to a curfew, and travel restrictions. While my father-in-law fought in the Pacific, his family was restricted to the red light district in Eureka.

David said...

The tweeners at Disney were mostly female. All the top creative (storyboard) artists were male, and it was a small cadre that did the creative work. The rest were copyists. Very talented copyists. This was one of the few places an artist could get paid work, even though the work was low pay.

Disney took (and caused to have taken) a lot of film of the operations of his company. The young (mostly) female tweeners would come to work very nicely dressed, well make up and looking pretty and ready to take on the world. Then they would get their assignments and draw all day.

It must have been rather strange. They had jobs, a good thing in the late 1930's, in Southern California and at a cutting edge organization. But the job had to be frustrating. Yet young women were coming from all over the country to pile into apartments together in California and toil for Walt and Mickey.

But they got to California. Maybe that was the trade off. And when the war came and they were needed even more, there were quite a number of good payoffs for their daring and persistence.

David said...

"Speaking of being thwarted by racism, how hard is it for an Asian to get into an Ivy League school ?"

Easier than most everyone else, because so many of them are smart and study hard. But proportionally, not as easy.

David said...

"How many other Disney cartoonists can you name?"

I can't name any offhand, but the early stars of the Disney creative team are well known by name to people who are interested in those kind of things.

The Disney Museum, in San Francisco of all places, has a wonderful set of programs on all things Disney.

Mike said...

106 is a long life. If stress shortens your life can we infer this is a guy who didn't stress out a lot? He manages to immigrate in the face of anti-Chinese laws, succeeds in a highly driven company during a very competitive time, achieved recognition eventually and is the subject of more than one museum exhibit. And he lived to 106. Hmmm. We should all be so thwarted.

Rich Rostrom said...

"I did not know before reading that obituary that during WW2, some Chinese Americans chose to wear buttons to communicate that they were not Japanese..."


At the end of To the Shores of Tripoli (1942), the protagonists have completed U.S. Marine training and march off to battle, cheered by crowds including an Asian man with a sign reading "Me Chinese" hung around his neck.