Works by Jeffrey Chong Wang from the Collection of Ninalee Allen Craig

By: Brittany Boyd-Pyman

Ninalee Allen Craig – Trailblazing Art Collector

Ruth Orkin, American Girl in Italy, 1951

There is a reason you might recognise the name Ninalee Allen Craig.

Ninalee Allen Craig is the American Girl in Italy, the subject of the photograph taken by Ruth Orkin in Florence in the summer of 1951.  At the time, Craig (née Allen), was 23 years old and had boldly decided to tour Europe alone following her resignation as a nursery school teacher in Manhattan. Also staying in the one-dollar-per-night-hotel in Florence was Ruth Orkin, a young photojournalist in search of her next subject. After Orkin approached Craig to be part of her photograph, the famous image was born.

However, Craig was destined to become more than just the subject of a famous photograph. She became a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson, the celebrated ad agency; raised a family — and became an art collector. Her knowledge of art history (she attended Sarah Lawrence to study the subject) and her extensive travels developed her keen eye and unconventional taste.

Her art collection is as trailblazing as she was, featuring a unique combination of antique silver baby rattles, countless images of Mount Vesuvius, and an assemblage of work by contemporary Canadian artist Jeffrey Chong Wang.  Craig made an impression on everyone she met, including Wang.

Wang was introduced to Craig in 2011 when Craig attended Wang’s first ever solo show.  Craig soon became a big supporter of his work, so big in fact, that Wang refers to her as “the most important collector for [his] early artistic career”. Wang believes that his style of painting, which is heavily influenced by classical European painting (with a twist), perhaps brought back fond memories from her early adulthood travelling Europe. In turn, Wang fondly recalls her twice-annual visits to his studio, where they would discuss art and art history.

Interview with Jeffrey Chong Wang

JEFFREY CHONG WANG, Self Portrait

As an artist with such a unique and recognisable style, Brittany Boyd-Pyman asked Wang some other questions about his work to gain further insight into Craig’s collection and his work. Wang’s artwork will feature in our Concrete Contemporary Auction, October 20 – 25, 2018.

BBP:  Of the paintings she [Ninalee Allen Craig] owned, is there one in particular that really stands out to you? Perhaps it represents a certain memory or experience or person? Perhaps you feel a powerful personal connection with one particular work?

JCW:  That would be the self-portrait with the hat. I did that painting during my first year of school in New York; it was a school assignment. I haven’t done too many self-portraits since and I hadn’t developed my own style yet, so when I look at that painting it reminds me of the time I spent as young art student in New York. That piece makes me feel a very strong personal connection.

BBP:  Generally speaking, what sort of feedback do you receive from your collectors about your work? Are there any adjectives that people frequently use to describe it?

JCW:  People like to make the connection with my work and early or northern renaissance art, such as artwork by Hieronymus Bosch. They often find it interesting how this style of art language works with Asian cultural backgrounds and subjects.

BBP:  Your figures have very unique eyes, are you able to tell me more about that? Sometimes the pair of eyes is focused in two different directions, sometimes they are averted, making it difficult for the viewer to gaze directly into the eyes of the subject. Is this a subversive technique?

JCW:  It is a subversive technique in a way. I was trying to show more “craziness” from the characters in the painting.  But this “craziness” is not real exactly – it’s the characters who are pretending to be little crazy. This gesture is representative of an attitude toward society and outside world.

BBP:  A lot of the staff members here at Waddington’s have been intrigued by the painting entitled Six Righteous Men in South Peking and are curious about the story behind it. It’s a very dynamic piece with a lot of symbolism and it has prompted endless curiosity.

JCW:  This piece is a mixture from my memory and imagination. The characters are six of my friends, based on their personalities. I put them in this imaginary space with more staged and exaggerated poses.

JEFFREY CHONG WANG, Six Righteous Men in South Peking

To view the full Concrete Contemporary Auction Gallery please: Click Here


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