“American Masters” Doc on Painter Tyrus Wong Available Now from PBS

PBS Distribution recently released American Masters: Tyrus (DVD: $24.99). Until his death at the age of 106, Tyrus Wong (1910-2016) was America’s oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. The quiet beauty of his Eastern-influenced paintings caught the eye of Walt Disney, who made Wong the inspirational sketch artist for Bambi. Filmmaker Pamela Tom corrects a historical wrong by spotlighting this seminal, but heretofore under-credited, figure. Born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, right before the fall of the Chinese Empire, Wong and his father immigrated to America in 1919, never to see their family again, and the film shows how he overcame a life of poverty and racism to become a celebrated painter (who once exhibited with Picasso and Matisse), a Hollywood sketch artist, and a “Disney Legend.” Previously unseen art and interviews with Wong, together with movie clips and archival footage, illustrate how his unique style—melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art—is found in everything from Disney animation (Bambi) and live-action Hollywood studio films (Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima) to Hallmark Christmas cards, kites, hand-painted California dinnerware, and Depression-era WPA paintings.