Culture | Leong in Wonderland

B.C. artist re-imagines the natural world with a measure of intrigue

After the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts purchased a piece from Rick Leong’s Concordia thesis show last spring, the Burnaby B.C. native was catapulted into the city’s vibrant art scene. His first exhibit, “Wonderland,” features expressionistic landscape paintings that explore the mysteries of the natural world that modern science has attempted to unravel.

Leong’s approach is supremely different from that of most landscape artists. He explains, “I don’t have any resource material…and whatever I don’t remember accurately I invent.” In drawing solely from his memory and imagination, Leong avoids the banality sometimes associated with landscape paintings.

This unorthodox method gives him freedom to distort reality. In Leong’s words: “When you are painting rocks…and you think they look like faces and then you’re like, ‘Well, I’m going to make them really look like faces’…you have that freedom to allow yourself to do that.”

This is precisely what he does in Hakuna Matata where swirling tree trunks interweave behind a collection of rocks with howling faces. The painting presents a perplexing depiction of nature and allows room for interpretation.

Leong feels that modern landscape art has lost a certain romantic sensibility: “Going back a couple hundred years ago the forest…was something mysterious, it symbolized the unknown. Sometimes people went into it and never came out.” He adds that advances in science have changed our relationship with the world. Yet he intends to “bring a sense of wonder back into our everyday surroundings.” For instance, Leong captures a sense of mytery in the piece Will-O-Wisp Waltz at the Edge of Night which depicts a seemingly endless forest of evergreens blending into the night sky.

Although Leong does not directly express his Chinese heritage in his work, it plays an integral role in his artistic process. The Chinese technique of copying and transcribing – in order to create an exact replica of an artpiece – is central to his creative process. However, for him, copying and transcribing is “not necessarily copying the imagery or technique, but the feeling and sensation.”

His personal variation of this tradition is certainly apparent in the memorable piece, The Wrong Phenomenon. The work depicts a rainbow with jumbled colours juxtaposed with a dark, hazy landscape. Leong notes that he came across a similar painting on the internet a while ago, and decided to recreate it. He explains, “Even though it’s drawn from certain resources, it’s also remembered differently and invented.” Leong’s loosely imitative technique provides him with stimuli for many of his works.

With its imaginative interpretations of nature, “Wonderland” brings back the awe that escapes our empirically driven culture. Leong does not challenge modern scientific modes of thought, he merely offers a different perspective on his everyday surroundings. He compares his work to “laying back and staring at the clouds and seeing what shapes they turn into.”

“Wonderland” runs until February 23 at the Parisian Laundry (3550 Saint-Antoine Ouest). Visit for more information.