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Wong, Martin (1946-1999)  
 
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Pedro's Lament

Pedro's Lament (1984) was inspired by his passionate and stormy relationship with Pedro Rodriguez, an amateur boxer whom he met in 1980 and with whom he lived for several months, as explained by Barry Binderman in Sweet Oblivion.

Wong's relationship with Rodriguez is deeply encoded in this work, and one needs to be familiar with the details of Wong's biography to appreciate how it visualizes his personal experiences. However, even a casual viewer can recognize this as a complex and powerful work, functioning simultaneously on multiple levels--visually, emotionally, and intellectually.

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Recalling a relic in a Catholic altarpiece, a sketchbook, opened to a pen drawing of Rodriguez, is displayed behind glass in a large gilded frame on the lower level of the painting. Rodriguez also is invoked by the tirade transcribed on the blackboard-like surface that occupies virtually all of the center area of the painting. A wild combination of endearments, pleas, and threats, this tirade so disturbed Wong that he ended his relationship with Rodriguez shortly after it occurred.

Collaboration with Miguel Piñero

Both personally and professionally, Wong's complex relationship with Miguel Piñero generally is considered to be one of the most significant events of his life. A reformed drug dealer and burglar, Piñero (1946-1988) began writing with serious intent during his third imprisonment for armed robbery (1971-73 at Ossining Correctional Facility), and he had become an award-winning playwright and poet by the time he met Wong. Describing himself as a poet of the streets, Piñero wrote eloquently and powerfully about the experiences of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York.

Wong met Piñero in 1982 at the opening of Crime Show, a group exhibition at ABC No Rio, which included two paintings for the hearing impaired. Within a few weeks, Piñero had moved into Wong's apartment, and they lived together for the next year and a half.

Wong also credited Piñero with introducing him to aspects of the East Side that he did not know and with enabling him to become more fully integrated into its Latino community.

During the time that he lived with Piñero, Wong was able to develop a very significant body of work, which was presented in his first solo exhibition, Urban Landscapes, held in 1984 at Semaphore Gallery East.

Wong made several images of Piñero, including the tall, narrow Portrait of Piñero (1982), which depicts the poet writing in a notebook, opened on a ledge that also serves as picture frame. Above and behind Piñero are several of the brick tenement buildings that were beloved by both artist and writer. In the dark sky at the top of the picture, fleshy hands recalling the hearing impaired paintings record some lines from Piñero poems.

Wong incorporated similar hands in the foreground of Attorney Street: Handball Court with Autobiographical Poem by Piñero (1982-84), where they spell out one of his frequent declarations: "It's the real deal Neal I'm going to rock your world."

In Attorney Street, graffiti, sign language, letters, architectural motifs, and trompe l'oeil elements (including brick and wooden frames) are densely compacted together in what Wong described as a "landscape without a view." On the wall of the handball court, Wong reproduced graffiti painted by one of Piñero's young followers in a Lower East playground. In addition, Wong transcribed in the grey sky above the brick tenements an extended selection from one of Piñero's poems.

Attorney Street undoubtedly is the most famous of the numerous paintings that Wong created in collaboration with Piñero. The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased Attorney Street shortly after its completion, and this event transformed Wong's career, establishing him as a major player in the New York art world.

Homoerotic Paintings

The dramatic change in Wong's status may have given him the confidence to depict themes more explicitly than he had up to this point. One of the first of these is The Annunciation According to Mikey Piñero (1984), a free visualization of an incident in Piñero's critically acclaimed play Short Eyes (1974), set in an unnamed prison in New York City.

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