Archived Artists, Archived Speakers

Tyrus Wong

Tyrus Wong

Tyrus Wong, painter, muralist, lithographer, film production illustrator and kitemaker was born in Guangzhou, China in 1910. At age nine he left China for the United States. Upon his arrival he spent nearly a month at the Angel Island Immigration Station before joining his father in Sacramento. As a young teen he moved to Los Angeles’ Chinatown. While attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High his artistic talents were recognized and he was recommended for a summer scholarship at Otis Art Institute. After completing
the summer scholarship he knew at this young age that art was the only thing he wanted to do. Wisely his father supported his artistic endeavors and scraped together the $95. tuition needed for his first term at Otis. Wong was awarded subsequent scholarships and
graduated from Otis with top honors.
In 1937 Wong married Ruth Kimm and their first daughter was born a year later. Needing to provide for his family he took a job at Disney Studios working as an in-betweener. Not liking this tedious work and hearing that Disney had plans to produce Bambi he put together a portfolio consisting of tiny sketches of deer in the forest. His talents as a landscape painter were immediately recognized and he was promoted to establish the look and style for Disney’s classic Bambi. His lush backgrounds inspired by Chinese traditional ink-and-brush work conveyed the simplicity that Walt Disney had been searching for. Wong illustrated the feeling of the forest rather than indicating every leaf and detail.
Wong later moved on to Warner Bros. where he worked for over thirty years as preproduction artist on many live-action films including Rebel Without a Cause, Harper, The Wild Bunch. He also successfully applied his talents to designing his signature line of Christmas cards which meld his Oriental style painting with his Western experience. He also illustrated books and numerous magazines including L.A.Times Home and Readers Digest. Wong still managed to find time for painting and his work is still exhibited at museums and fine art galleries nationwide. Upon his retirement he rediscovered a childhood joy…flying kites. Wong designs and makes by hand all of his kites, some more than a hundred feet long. Though he celebrated his 102nd birthday last October he can still be found once a month at Santa Monica Beach filling the sky with birds, butterflies, goldfish and pandas and on a good wind day perhaps a 100 foot long centipede.