Brian Wong Won
With eighteen Carnival-inspired solo exhibitions to his credit including acclaimed shows in South Florida and London, it is easy to understand why the media and critics call Brian Wong Won the Carnival artist.
The Trinidadian artist has been making mas for a decade, probably the only painter in the region to make the depiction of Carnival his raison d’etre.
Since his first solo show Pandemonium in 1996, where the painting titles were written in French as a tribute to Carnival’s ancestry, the artist has allowed the melee that is Trinidad Carnival to direct his gouache-on-paper creations.
But what do you expect from a man who grew up a stone’s throw away from the bacchanal, in a suburb called Woodbrook, where many mas camps call home and where the madness starts on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Masqueraders usually assemble in one of Woodbrook’s beautiful squares before storming the capital and dingolaying through the city streets. Over three decades of mas have passed in front of him, from Minshall’s Paradise Lost to Lil Hart’s Anthony & Cleopatra.
Wong Won’s Carnival experience began at an early age with a Midnight Robber on Phillip Street one Carnival Monday in 1974. Carnival throughout the years would influence and colour his visual palette with the black of Jab Molassies, the rich red velvets of Gownmen and the pure whites of Fancy Sailors. Growing up surrounded by the intricate gingerbread architecture of suburban Woodbrook only sweetened the mix.
Although Wong Won has lived in Miami, Florida for the last 18 years, his work maintains its Trinidadian flavour, with themes and subjects that are diverse as the culture that bore him. The paintings are vibrant and detailed, with colours that run the gamut of the spectrum.
Though representational in nature, the work takes on a different perspective with regards to visual and aesthetic elements. Colour, indeed, plays an integral part of the picture, but so does the compositional treatment in the construction of the work.
In the paintings there seems to be no definite delineation of foreground and middle ground, but rather a combination of eschewed perspective that flows with the spectral sounds of pan and calypso. His paintings possess a spirit of their own, enthralling the viewer in a world known or unknown. Through the tapestry of details, a story or journey of discovery may unfold, offering up more to what is just apparent. When you view his work you can visually experience all the sounds and energy of Carnival leering out for your attention.
"My paintings try to compress everything—every detail, every emotion, the energy, and the atmospheres-everything into one. They take the viewer back into the carnival atmosphere; making him lost, enraptured and entangled in the intricate sea of form, line and colour,” the artist says. If you played mas the sensory voyage is even more heart felt and complete.
He works primarily in gouache, a water-based medium that has its origins as far back as the Italian Renaissance. A slightly flat and chalky medium, it proves amenable to his style and nature of painting. It gives him the clear, flat and precise colours that he seeks. He terms his work at times as “ reality in an animated existence”. They do not seek to be realist interpretations of events at all, but in fact have a far different purpose.
Wong Won’s work is part of several corporate collections, such as CLICO, BPTT, AT&T, Scotia Bank, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Government of Trinidad & Tobago and the National Museum of Trinidad & Tobago. His work has also been featured in BWIA Caribbean Beat Magazine, MACO Magazine, Upscale Magazine, Caribbean Travel & Life and the Latin American Bureau publications.
BWIA Beat Magazine Jan/Feb 2005
Brian Wong Won