Dream Travel, Stephen Wong’s first exhibition in London, combines two different series of landscape paintings.
The first series presents larger canvases depicting Wong’s hometown of Hong Kong. Inspired by artists such as John Constable, David Hockney and Félix Vallotton, Wong portrays the green spaces that surround Hong Kong. Focusing on water scenery, particularly waterfalls, Wong’s larger canvases have developed from his hikes in the nearby countryside. The second series presents a selection of smaller pieces that portray UK landscapes. When creating this series, Wong began exploring the scenery via Google Earth, taking these virtual journeys during the pandemic when travel was restricted. Here, the artist has selected sixteen locations in the UK countryside, inserting his trademark toy car into each painting to recall the idea of a virtual road trip. Dream Travel therefore combines the imaginary with the real, presenting two series of paintings that stem from physical and virtual observation.
Wong’s artworks take shape from his dedication to working in plein air. Before creating his larger canvas works in the studio, he makes preparatory drawings outdoors, preferring the act of sketching to photography as it gives him more freedom of interpretation. An avid hiker, Wong regularly explores trails in the nature surrounding Hong Kong. Often following unknown paths, these hikes sustain Wong’s artistic curiosity, enriching and refreshing his interpretations of even the most familiar landscapes. In the artist’s own words, “I feel like I’m drawing in my mind”. The ever-changing environment makes every moment different, reflected in Wong’s vivid use of colour and his detailed brushstroke, which come together to mirror the fluctuations of light and shadow. In Bride Pool, the perspective of a tumbling waterfall is flattened, reminiscent of Félix Vallotton’s landscapes inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. The colour gradient hints at a sense of depth; brighter greens and pinks give way to cooler blues and purples as the colour palette follows the descending path of cascading water. The water scene is framed by an abundance of intricately painted trees. The green and blue shades of foliage flicker against purple tones of thinly brushed branches while the crashing of falling water is represented by indiscriminate flecks of white and lilac paint.
Dream Travel brings together these Hong Kong landscapes, drawn from real life, with Wong’s images of the UK, drawn from Google Earth. The exhibition demonstrates a process that relies dually on memory and imagination as Wong meditates on our innate desire to travel. Always preferring the meandering routes of the countryside to the grid like roads of the city, Wong’s exhibition is an ode to travel both real and imagined. For Wong, Dream Travel carries a personal significance. The exhibition comes full circle, as the artist’s virtual travels to the UK are realised. Dream Travel completes a journey, bringing together the well-trodden paths of Wong’s hometown and the places he could, at one time, only dream of visiting.