Wong, who was born in 1910 in southern China’s Guangdong Province, moved to Sacramento, California, with his father when he was only 10 years old. They eventually settled in Los Angeles.
“Like other Chinese immigrants, Wong’s adventure to the ‘Gold Mountain’ began in a locked cell at the Angel Island Immigration Station, where a frightened nine-year-old Tyrus was interrogated and detained for over a month,” PBS wrote in a biography about him in 2017.
As a young child Wong was wholly interested in painting and drawing, but his father could only afford for his son to use water and newspapers and study Chinese art at the Los Angeles Central Library, according to the Google doodle blog. But the library opened his eyes to a whole other world of art, including the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty.
After graduating from Otis Art Institute, Wong’s work was showcased at the Chicago Art Institute alongside greats like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Known for his role in shaping the cultural and artistic life of Los Angeles, Wong’s landscape paintings were often influenced by both his Asian roots and Western training. He and fellow creators Hideo Date and Benji Okubo became known as the “Los Angeles Orientalists.”
Eventually, “the quiet beauty of Wong’s Eastern-influenced paintings caught the eye of Walt Disney and became the inspiration for the classic animated feature Bambi,” according to PBS. “In the words of celebrated Disney animator Frank Thomas, ‘The influence that Ty had on the film, made the film.’”
But when the film hit theaters in 1942, Wong was simply credited as one of the movie’s many “background artists.”
He went on to draw and paint storyboards with Warner Brothers and influenced the look of landmark films like “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “The Wild Bunch” and “Rebel Without A Cause.”
It wasn’t until Wong was named a “Disney Legend” in 2001 that Wong’s contributions began to be more widely recognized. The Walt Disney Film Museum also created an exhibition on Wong in 2013, titled “Water to paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong.”
Wong, considered one of the most celebrated Chinese-American artists of the 20th century, painted until his latest years. He died at age 106 on Dec. 30, 2016.
“There will never be another Tyrus Wong. His story is born out of a time and place that no longer exists. Each era has its pioneers, and Tyrus was a pioneer of the 20th century,” American Masters: Tyrus filmmaker Pamela Tom told PBS. “He is an artist who forged his own path, and whose passion and dedication led to a rich and extraordinary life. It is this life that I hope will enlighten, inspire and entertain audiences of today and of future generations.”
Thursday’s Google doodle video, created by team member Sophie Diao, “was heavily inspired by Tyrus’ paintings of forests, which are atmospheric, blurry, and magical.” Watch below:
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