1946 - 1999

“Every single Asian dude who went to high school or junior high during the era of John Hughes movies was called 'Donger,'”

 – Martin Wong

Martin Wong was born on July 11, 1946 in Portland, Oregon and raised in Chinatown in San Francisco. After studying ceramics at college Wong became active in the San Francisco art scene as a member of the gay street performance group Angels of Light and also as a set designer for The Cockettes. In 1978, Wong moved to New York City and where he began to focus on his painting. There his career soared and soon gained national recognition. Largely self-taught as a painter, Wong’s work ranged from canvases of the decaying Lower East Side, to near-kitschy Chinatown depictions. His art tended to blend the decorative with the real, and also explored queer sexuality as well as ethnic identity. In his characteristic Fu Manchu mustache and cowboy hat, Wong became an influential artist in the downtown scene and a mentor to many young artists. Wong’s greatest fame came from his word and cityscape collaborations with one-time romantic partner, poet Miguel Pinero (1946-1988). Wong was also a vast collector. In 1994, he donated his 300 piece graffiti collection, one of the largest in the world, to the Museum of the City of New York. The same year Wong, suffering with HIV, returned to San Francisco. He died from an HIV-related illness at age 53 on August 12, 1999. In his obituary Wong was described by the New York Times as an artist “whose meticulous visionary realism is among the lasting legacies of New York's East Village art scene of the 1980s”.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Rim

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present)

Field(s) of Contribution


Art, Music, Literature & Theater

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Martin Wong Foundation Created By His Mother (2001)



Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Carrie Maxwell
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell