Featured Artist: Ronald Wong
Clare Kendal Bate has had an appreciative eye on Ronald Wong’s work for a while. Looking at his website, you can’t help but be impressed with the stunning realism of his paintings of military and civil aircraft. Ronald also has a mind-boggling knowledge about all things aviation.
This great love of planes began as a small boy in Hong Kong. ‘I was about 6 when we moved from near Shanghai in China to the then British colony. We lived a few hundred yards from the RAF Kai Tak base, so my fascination with the subject started then. I could see the aircraft land at the base from our garden and would be transfixed for hours.’ I love a work called ‘Hornets over Hong Kong’, which depicts two De Havilland Hornet F4s of No 80 Sqn RAF flying over the coast with the city and hazy overlapping mountains beyond. I find it exotic and exciting. Ronald says: ‘I really like detail and love to research trees and surrounding landscapes that are authentic for that country or area.’
Chatting away in the kitchen whilst a cup of green tea was made I noticed a striking piece that I had seen on Ronald’s website called ‘American Achievement’. It wasn’t an aircraft I’d ever seen and I was curious to know more.
Ronald explains; ‘That is Rutan’s diminutive SpaceShipOne, a suborbital air-launched spaceplane. It won the coveted X prize in 2004 for completing the first manned private space flight. The launch site was in the Californian desert and I painted the moments after it launched from its mother ship, named “White Knight”, as it reaches for space.’
The painting was displayed at the Guild of Aviation Artists Annual Exhibition in 2005.
After completing his schooling in Hong Kong, Ronald had the chance to spend a few years studying in the US. ‘I went to University in Illinois but was never quite sure what I wanted to do. I decided to take several different subjects including anatomy, physiology and I also took some art classes. They had a very good art teacher there; the best I’ve ever come across actually. ‘
Ronald eventually chose to study to become a biochemist and spent 4 years at Hatfield Polytechnic. ‘After finishing my degree, I worked for the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith and I also had a job with the Institute of Helminthology, which had links to the Rothamsted Institute.’
So what makes a biochemist decide to become a full time artist? ‘I loved painting since I was a boy and seemed to have an affinity for it and was always top of the class! I decided in 1976 to work out how long I could survive on my savings, which was about 2 years; Even though I had no formal training in art I took the plunge and my life as an artist began.’
Ronald spent his first few years building up clientele by painting portraits of people and animals through having stands at Crufts and the National Cat Show. Then he happened to meet the late artist Richard Jones; ‘Richard was a wonderful guy and we discovered we had a lot in common. He had been a scientist as well and had a passion for painting aircraft. It was he who introduced me to the Guild of Aviation Artists and I have never looked back’.
Ronald is constantly busy with commissions for his art from air forces, airlines, companies and individuals across the world. Preferring to work with oil, he under-paints in acrylic and pencil. ‘I have to live up to the subject matter when producing work for clients as I specialise in a strictly technical field. It would immediately look wrong to those who know. I am using all my skills to make it convincing; science and art come together.’ He adds with a smile, ‘It does sometimes feel odd that I am an artist’.
When looking at Ronald’s website it strikes me what an impressive amount of work he has produced. A piece named ‘Interceptor’ shows the Cold War Tornado F3 (No11 Sqn RAF) accelerating vertically above the clouds. As a viewer you get a sense of the aircraft’s speed and a panorama of the earth that must be thrilling to experience. ‘Red Arrow Hawks’ was commissioned for the cover of the RAF Yearbook in 2009 and brings back memories of the excitement of watching the Red Arrows aerial displays. Another work I think highly of is ‘Aardvark over Urquhart Castle’. The F-111F Aardvarks were strike bombers based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk and played a major role in the first Gulf War. It shows the plane on exercise flying low over Loch Ness, past the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
Two of Ronald’s non-aviation works to which I was drawn were an expressive portrait in oil called ‘Old Man’ and the early morning hunting scene ‘Dawn over the Flats’’. The sky, the hunter and his dog are all reflected in the flooded grasslands, capturing the serenity of the moment before a shot rings out.
He tells me; ‘After long periods of concentration on a complicated aviation piece, I find it a release to paint other subjects. I feel exhilarated by painting as a whole.’
Ronald has also been lucky enough to fly in quite a few of the aircraft he paints and he tells me about one experience; ‘I was on an Air Force Art Program visit at Randolph AFB in Texas and flew in a USAF T-38, which is still the world’s only supersonic trainer. The aircraft is noticeably livelier than that of the British Aerospace Hawk trainer I have previously flown in. I was wilting and soaked in sweat towards the end of the flight, but what a fascinating experience it was.’
Ronald has received numerous awards for his work and won the ‘Best Painting By Public Vote’ at the Guild Of Aviation Artists Annual Exhibition three times. He is a regular contributor to the Guild’s newsletter.
In 2013, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of 617 (Dambusters) Squadron, Ronald was commissioned to paint a piece for this famous RAF squadron. He has taken an ingenious approach to the piece - painted on a rainy day the modern aircraft sits outside its hanger with the pilots standing by. A pool of water has gathered on the tarmac and in the reflection is a 1943 Lancaster bomber with the crew in their original WWII uniforms.
From July 21-27 Ronald will be exhibiting a work called ‘Overlord Rising’ in The Guild of Aviation Artists' 44th Annual Summer Exhibition at The Mall Galleries, near Admiralty Arch, London SW1.
If you would like to contact Ronald or commission work, here are his details:
Phone: 01727 869917
By CLARE KENDAL BATE