See You On the Other Side

Wong, Matthew

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl
  • Date of entry: Nov-04-2019
  • Last revised: Nov-04-2019

Summary

A tiny figure sits alone, looking back at a building in the distance. The building looks like a one-story home, the rudimentary kind you learn to draw in kindergarten, with a triangle roof and a blocky rectangular body, embedded with smaller rectangles to signify the door and windows. The figure in the foreground and the house in the background are the same size, and this scale emphasizes the depth of the landscape – the figure and the house are separated by a vast white space. And yet they are clearly connected, not only because the house is centered in the figure’s line of vision, but also because they share the same teal colors.  

The house sits at the foot of a spring-green mountain, painted over with long cascading strokes of darker green, giving the impression of a verdant and peaceful setting. Contrast this to the brown ridge where the figure is sitting, huddled in a long sleeve jacket, hands tucked into pockets. The ridge is barren except for a single tree that is mostly bare branches with sparse pale-pink leaves.

Commentary

Matthew Wong was a rising young painter who died of suicide on October 2, 2019. In a moving obituary by the New York Times, his mother explained that Mr. Wong “was on the autism spectrum, had Tourette’s syndrome and had grappled with depression since childhood.” This helps to explain the sense of isolation and longing in the painting, depicted by the solitary figure on a barren ridge, looking back at a house in lush green surroundings. The figure also appears to be physically cold, wrapped in long sleeve coat, hands tucked in pockets, with no skin showing, but is sadly separated from shelter by an icy white distance. This dynamic, amidst a landscape of majestic mountain rising into star-crowded sky, gives a sense of melancholy beauty and loneliness.  

The title of the painting, “See You On the Other Side,” can be interpreted in numerous ways. Mr. Wong is known for incorporating mythical elements into his work, so is this the beginning of the hero’s journey? If the tree in the foreground is interpreted as being laden with pale pink flower buds, there is a sense of hope and promise that the figure is leaving home and will return triumphant on the other side. But the tree can also be seen as a representation of fall transitioning into winter, hanging onto a few withered leaves, as the last bright red autumnal leaf blows away. Is the figure heading away from the verdant house and mountain into winter, the season that classically symbolizes death? Does the other side refer to an afterlife? A third interpretation to consider is that the figure is not leaving the house, but actually trying to get there. In this case, on the other side would refer to crossing the vast white expanse where no path is marked and no help is in sight.

Miscellaneous

2019
Oil on Canvas
Matthew Wong Estate and Karma, New York