MALIBU—A new exhibit, “Painting the Sky: The Kites of Tyrus Wong,” opened at Malibu City Hall on April 2 and will remain on display through July 28. The exhibit portrays the works of the late painter, illustrator, lithographer, and kite maker Tyrus Wong, who passed away in December 2016 at 106 years old.
Wong’s kites are meticulously crafted from bamboo, nylon, and string, and hand-painted with intricate details. They depict birds such as owls, swallows, and cranes, as well as butterflies, dragonflies, and a 22-foot-long centipede made of bamboo strips. Wong’s creations are showcased in the City Hall’s atrium and arranged to appear airborne. His daughter, Kim Wong, informed the Malibu Times, that her father specialized in kites designed to look like flocks of birds, with a main line and as many as 24 attachments.
Tyrus Wong was born in 1910 in a farming village in Guangdong, China. In 1920, he and his father left for America to seek greater opportunities. Upon arrival, Wong was separated from his father and detained at Angel Island Immigration Center for nearly a month. The two were reunited and moved to Los Angeles.
Wong’s father encouraged him to pursue art and taught him calligraphy at home. When he was in junior high, a teacher noticed his artistic talent and helped him get a scholarship at the Otis Art Institute, now known as the Otis College of Art and Design.
After graduation, Wong created paintings for the Works Progress Administration. He was a founding member of the Oriental Artists’ Group in Los Angeles. In 1938, he joined Disney, where he established himself as an artist after illustrating the nature scenes in the animated film “Bambi.” He went on to illustrate movies for other studios, including Warner Brothers. In 2001, Wong received a Historymakers Award from the Chinese American Museum. He was also named a Disney Legend for his contributions.
Wong took up kite-making upon retirement, 40 years ago, along with Christmas card-making and calligraphy. In 2015, an award-winning documentary, “Tyrus,” directed by Pamela Tom, was released based on Wong’s life.
The exhibit at City Hall features a collection by photographer Sara Jane Boyers, titled “Go Fly a Kite: Saturdays at the Beach with Tyrus Wong.” Boyers chronicled Wong and his kites for the last 10 years of his life.
The exhibit and photography collection can be viewed at Malibu City Hall, 23825 Stuart Ranch Road. For more information, visit here.