Dong Kingman Biography

Dong Kingman




Dong Kingman was born Song Moy Shu on March 31, 1911, in Oakland, California. At age five, he moved with his family to Hong Kong where his father established a dry goods business. According to Chinese custom, Kingman was given his new name when he entered school. Hearing that he aspired to be an artist, his teacher gave him the name of King (scenery) Man (composition). He later combined the two names.

At the Chan Sun Wen school, Kingman excelled at Calligraphy and watercolor painting, despite his family's discouragement of his artistic interests. He studied under Szetzo-Wai, the Paris-trained head of the Lingman Academy, who would introduce him to Northern European trends.

In 1929, still a teenager, Kingman returned to Oakland, and attended the Foz Morgan Art School while holding a variety of jobs. It was at this time he decided to concentrate on watercolors. During the Depression, Kingman would emerge as one of the nation's leading practitioners of the medium, and was one of the pioneers of the California Style school of painting. His first solo show in San Francisco was an instant success, with critcs remarking on his dramatic, dynamic depictions of urban life which became a main focus of Kingman's work.

Beginning in 1936, Kingman was a participating artist in the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Over the next five years he created nearly 500 paintings for the program, which not only helped artists but made America aware of its own art. During this time he also earned two Guggenheim Fellowships back to back, which allowed him to travel. In 1941 he joined the army, and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Service at Camp Beal, California and then to Washington D.C. After the war he settled in New York, assuming teaching positons at Columbia University and Hunter College.

In 1954 Kingman became a cultural ambassador for the United States. He was involved in the film industry in the 1950s and 1960s, where he served as a technical advisor. He created the backdrops for such films as Flower Drum Song, and 55 Days at Peking. In 1981, China's Ministry of Culture hosted an exhibition of Kingman's paintings. It was the first American solo show since the resumption of American and Chinese relations. Kingman's work is included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Brooklyn Museum, de Young Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Dong Kingman died in New York City on Mary 12, 2000.