Dong Kingman, American (1911 - 2000)

Dong Kingman was born Dong Moy Shu on March 31, 1911 in Oakland, California. At age five he returned with his family to Hong Kong where his father established a dry goods business. According to Chinese custom, Kingman was given his new name when he entered school. Hearing that he aspired to be an artist, his teacher gave him the name of King (scenery) Man (composition). In later years he combined the two words into Kingman and following Chinese custom, he used the family name first and the given name second, thus Dong Kingman.

At the Chan Sun Wen School, Kingman excelled at calligraphy and watercolor painting, and while his family, including his mother, an amateur painter, didn't encourage him, he was not discouraged in his love of art. He studied with Szeto Wai, the Paris-trained head of the Lingnan Academy, who introduced Kingman to Northern European trends. Szeto Wai, he would acknowledge, was his "first and only true influence."

Kingman returned to Oakland, California in his late teens in 1929 and attended the Fox Morgan Art School while holding down a variety of jobs. Here the artist decided to concentrate on watercolors. At the time, Charles Burchfield, John Marin and George Grosz were the leading practitioners of the medium. During the Depression era decade that followed, Kingman would emerge as one of America's leading artists and a pioneer of the California Style School of painting. A 1936 solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association brought him instant success and national recognition. Art critic Junius Cravens was effusive:

"The young Chinese artist is showing twenty of the freshest, most satisfying, watercolors that have been seen hereabouts in many a day . . . landscapes and San Francisco street scenes, in which human figures appear incidentally, predominate in Kingman's exhibition. He handles his color fluently, in broad telling masses. He is never finicky. He is completely sincere and never superficial. Here is a real watercolor painter."

Reviewing the Second Annual Exhibition of Watercolors, Pastels and Tempera on Paper, sponsored by the San Francisco Art Association in 1937, art critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote:

"Dong Kingman is bold, free and joyous as always. He paints with soaked light. He is San Francisco's A No. 1 watercolorist at the present moment."
Frankenstein saw Kingman's early landscapes as "Mysterious and somber - more Chinese," but as the artist matured and focused on the city scene, there appeared a more "dramatic, excited and dynamic tone," easily identified with twentieth century urban living. Kingman's bold paintings of the urban scene, which was to become his main subject, were observed by writers and critics as a synthesis of his Oriental heritage and his fascination with Occidental modernism. Defining a personal style, however, seemed never to concern the artist. "I am Oriental when I paint trees and landscapes, but Occidental when I paint buildings, ships or three-dimensional subjects with sunlight and shadow." The artist characterized his style as merely, "my way of painting."
Beginning in 1936, Kingman was a participating artist in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created by the federal government to help support the arts. In the next five years he painted nearly five hundred works for the relief program which not only helped artists financially, but also made America aware of its own art. In 1941 Kingman earned the first of two, back to back, Guggenheim Fellowships which allowed him to travel. During World War II he joined the army and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Service at Camp Beal, California and then Washington, D.C. The nature of his duties allowed him to continue his career. After the war Kingman settled on the East Coast, in Brooklyn, New York, assuming teaching positions at Columbia University and Hunter College in 1946 for the next ten years.

In 1954 Kingman became a cultural ambassador for the United States in an international lecture tour for the Department of State. He was also a founding member of the Famous Artists Painting School of Westport, Connecticut, which taught art by correspondence. Kingman became involved in the film industry during the 1950's and 60's where he served as technical advisor. In addition, he created brilliant main title backgrounds for such films as "55 Days in Peking" and "Flower Drum Song." Over three hundred of his film-related works are permanently housed at the Center for Motion Picture Study at the Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.

In 1981, Mainland China's Ministry of Culture hosted a critically acclaimed exhibition of Kingman's paintings in Beijing, attended by 100,000 people. It was the first American one-man show since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China.

In the 90's, Kingman's paintings were the subject of two major exhibitions in Taiwan: the Taipei Modern Art Museum in 1995 and the Taichung Provincial Museum in 1999.

Among his many awards and honors over seven decades, The American Watercolor Society awarded him its highest honor, the Dolphin Award, for outstanding contributions to art.

From 1940 to present, Kingman's exhibitions, throughout the United States, have been almost yearly events and received by the public and press with laudits and critical success.

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