Caroline Wong (b. 1986, Ipoh, Malaysia) lives and works in London, UK. Wong graduated with an MA in Fine Art from City and Guilds of London Art School in 2021. She also obtained a Diploma in Contemporary Portraiture from The Art Academy in 2018. Upcoming and recent shows include Gallery Belenius, Stockholm, Sweden (2024); Galleria Alessandro Albanese, Milan, Italy (2023); A Many-Splendoured Thing, Rusha & Co., Los Angeles, USA (2023); The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize (2023); You Were Bigger than the Sky, You Were More than Just a Short Time, Gallery Belenius, Stockholm, Sweden (2023); Artificial Paradises, Soho Revue, London, UK (2022); Cats and Girls, Soy Capitán, Berlin, Germany (2022); In the Land of Cockaigne, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK (2022); Drawn Out, Drawing Room, London, UK (2021); Drawing Biennial (2021); and Drawing Room, London, UK (2021). Awards include the The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize (shortlisted) (2023); and Drawing Room Biennial Bursary Award (2021).
RESIDENCY: 15 - 31 AUGUST 2023
EXHIBITION: 1 - 5 SEPTEMBER 2023
“My work is about women who freely express who they are and who they want to be while feasting and enjoying what is happening around them, inspired by the freedom and amorality of their feline companions.”
Castello San Basilio is delighted to present Eternal Summer II, Caroline Wong’s end-of-residency solo show. Comprising four new pastel drawings, the exhibition expands on Wong’s ongoing Cats and Girls body of work.
Born to Chinese parents in Ipoh, Malaysia, Wong grew up in London where, as an art student, she encountered the Chinese genre meirenhua – images of the ‘perfect’ East Asian woman. These paintings depict the ideal woman as slender, delicate, and most of all passive, suppressing all personal needs and desires to conform to a narrow mould. Wong rebels against societal norms by depicting her women in the act of uncontrolled feasting, subverting the traditional views of beauty, daintiness, and femininity that characterise meirenhua. The girls in Wong’s drawings mimic ravenous cats, gorging on their food and thereby liberating themselves from some of the behavioural strictures imposed by society. Through the act of eating, Wong also brings to the surface women’s often uneasy relationship with food, touching upon themes connected to body dysmorphia and eating disorders, as well as pleasure, sensuality, transience, and desire.
Inspired by the meals at Castello San Basilio, Wong depicts four distinct times of the day: Spaghetti Lunch (eating spaghetti straight from the pan); Tea Time (incorporating traditional pastries of the Basilicata region); The Bacchanal (depicting Castello San Basilio’s large group dinners, and represented by Wong in an exaggerated, orgiastic manner, with references to the Greco-Roman god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy, Bacchus); and Midnight Supper (eating leftovers from the kitchen’s fridge: prosciutto and melon, fruit platters, bruschetta). Wong works off of a variety of different sources: either images which she sources from the internet like stills of mukbang (YouTube videos in which people record themselves eating), or through staged and then photographed performances in which she asks her sitters to eat with feline abandon. Similar to a still life painting, Wong freezes a moment in lifelike detail, conveying feelings of desire, hunger, joy, and disgust.
Wong’s girls are always portrayed with cats. Depicted as eating or patiently sitting, waiting for some food to fall from the girls’ mouths and hands, felines are a very important aspect of Wong’s work, symbolising freedom, but also a darker side of femininity. ‘Alley cat’, ‘cat woman’, ‘cat lady’, ‘catty’: cats are used as metaphors to criticize women for being too sexual or not sexual enough, too selfish or too spiteful. Yet, to Wong, their uninhibited, mysterious, stubbornly undomesticated nature embodies an independence that women have long been denied.
Wong’s use of pastels and paper is also studied. In the 18th and 19th century, pastel drawing was compared to the act of applying makeup and regarded as an inferior medium, mostly suitable for women and amateur artists. Wong converts pastels’ delicate and ‘feminine’ properties into energetic strokes which stand out for their bright colours, fighting, once again, social preconceptions.
Wong’s rebellious drawings become at once sensual and chaotic; delicate and visceral, celebrating the beauty in excess, and the depiction of diversity through pleasure in food. “My practice is ultimately about women going against the grain, women caught between cultures, women who are hungry for food, for revenge, for affection”.