Google Doodle Illustrates Tyrus Wong’s Creative Voyage

By Sameer Rao Oct 25, 2018

Visitors to Google’s home page today (October 25) will experience artist Tyrus Wong‘s life as an illustrated montage, from childhood calligraphy practice to adult kite-flying adventures.

Today’s Doodle recognizes the Chinese-American illustrator, born Wong Gen Yeo on this day in 1910. According to Google’s post, Wong emigrated with his father from China’s Guangdong Province to California at the age of 10. An obituary from The New York Times notes that the pair circumvented the Chinese Exclusion Act by traveling with false documents and passing rigorous interrogations at Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay. 

The father and son eventually settled in Los Angeles, where Wong began practicing Chinese calligraphy and visited the city’s Central Library. He drew early inspiration from landscape paintings dating to the Song Dynasty, which he encountered while studying Chinese art at the library. 

Wong earned a scholarship to the prestigious Otis Art Institute, where he further developed his craft and formed the Oriental Artists’ Group of Los Angeles with Asian-American colleagues including Hideo Date and Benji Okubo. He caught a major break in 1938 when, after several years of exhibiting his work around the country, he took an internship with Walt Disney Studios. 

Google notes that Wong served as a lead illustrator on "Bambi”—a career-defining accomplishment that Disney reduced to a "background artist" credit. These and future accomplishments, including a 22-year stint as a storyboard artist for Warner Bros., went largely ignored until well after his retirement in 1968. 

Disney eventually recognized Wong’s importance to one of its most recognized properties by naming him a "Disney Legend" in 2001. He spent the last years of his life pursuing another artistic endeavor—making and flying his own kites on the beach in Santa Monica, California—before dying from natural causes at the age of 106.

"Tyrus Wong’s work has inspired me since I first learned about him as a first-year animation student at CalArts," Doodle illustrator Sophie Diao writes. "I specifically love how he infused Western illustration with Eastern painting sensibilities; it motivates me to think about ways to channel my own Chinese heritage in the stories and artwork I make."

Google partnered with Wong’s daughters Kay Fong and Kim and Tai-Ling Wong to create the Doodle. "Through his work ethic, appreciation of nature’s beauty and joy in creating art, Dad was a role model for us," the sisters add. “He would have been honored and greatly appreciative to receive this tribute."