Let's start at the beginning, with the things that really influenced my artistic side. I was born in
1966, the only child to Doreen and Ronald Tong in Croydon, South London, England. Both my
parents served during WW2, my dad as an anti-aircraft gunner in the navy in Burma and my mum
was a worker in a munitions factory during the Blitz in South London. I grew up around WW2
veterans, heard their stories and that always had a large influence on my work. I developed a big
interest in history quite early and how it repeats itself.
In my mid-teens I discovered the joys of alcohol and getting into trouble with the police. I
developed alcoholism, also later drug addiction and I was working with some very shady
characters indeed, ending up in a place that could only be described as pure hell for many years.
On the upside, surviving this time in my life very much influenced who I am as an artist. Coming
out of it somewhat healthy has made me a stronger person.
My work always has a certain amount of an autobiographic touch to it. There is a sense of
nostalgia to it no matter how small. Then there are the parts of my life I have struggled to
overcome but as time goes on and that life gets further away, so does the subject matter. I don't
paint so many guns anymore. I have mellowed and that is a nice feeling. There was nothing
glorious about that lifestyle.
What got you started? What keeps you going?
What got me started in art was my uncle Mick. He used to paint these fantastic murals on custom
cars and hot rods in South London in the early 70s. I was always amazed at his skill. Most of his
work was fantasy and horror-based, lots of skeletons, skulls and fantastic creatures. As a kid that
had a big influence on me. He also gave me my first set of paints, a lovely wooden box of Windsor
and Newton watercolors. (He had a friend that broke into the Windsor and Newton factory and
stole a load of supplies...)
Also later my art teacher Anne Kay at school, who really gave me the confidence to pursue this line
of work. My father, who was a nightmare to be around sometimes because of his unresolved anger
issues, always encouraged me to pursue a career in art, which I think is an amazing thing to do for
It can be hard sometimes trying to decide what to paint if I start worrying too much about what
might sell or not. Sometimes it also means you have to do something else on the side to pay the
bills. If you are not careful, it can turn into a chore, a burden, especially if you let other people try
to influence what your are doing as an artist. But I found that the most important thing is to stick
to your style, develop it but don't let others tell you what to do or not to do. Paint what you like to
What keeps me going is that my art is a great release for me, if it is going well. It is like a drug in a
way, it excites me, having that spark of an idea and developing that into something solid.
It is also my way to make sense of the world around me and reflect my thoughts in some way, I
What/who inspires you? In what way?
Moving to Germany recently after 23 years in Canada is shaping the imagery I am using quite a bit.
A big inspiration to me is the Dada movement that came of Germany past WWI, really gritty and
political. It had a real fuck you attitude to it, powerful stuff that is to me a bit like the punk movement in England in the 70s. And Otto Dix came out of that movement, one of my favourite artists.
Overall, I find those inspiring who have had a troubled past and still came out on top, which is
something I can relate to.
What is art for you? Examples of „real art“?
I like art that is clever and well executed. I don't like lazy art where someone has just thrown some
images together and just added a couple of metaphors to explain the thing with no thought.
But at the core, art for me is something that can strike a chord with the viewer, tug at the emotions.
That you come away still thinking about that piece of art. Otto Dix's work does that for me. And
Patrick Woodruff, the English illustrator, also the old masters, Dürer and Caravaggio.
The most powerful/your favourite medium: picture, words, sounds? Anything else?
I have not got one favourite medium as I am mixing it all up more and more. Nothing blends like
oils. I really feel most comfortable using oils and graphite, but also really whatever works for the
piece that I am doing at any given time.
Plans for the future (of your work)?
At the moment I am mixing some images on the computer. I have always shied away from
using the computer. But I am now using it as a tool together with other mediums. I am looking at
transferring images to panels and painting into them. I am quite excited about that.
I am also really excited that I am going to do some more work with war veterans. At the moment
I am corresponding with Gary, a Vietnam veteran whose portrait I drew recently. He is sorting
through hundreds of images that he and a friend of his took during that conflict. And he is very
kindly letting me use them.
Anything you would like to add? Maybe a song, picture, hello to friends and family?
I am very grateful to my parents, even though sometimes we didn't see eye to eye, for encouraging
me to follow a career in art, also my uncle Mick and my art teacher Anne Kay for her guidance in
those early years.
I would like to say a big thanks to my wife for sticking by me through all the crap. She has seen the
worst of me and stuck with me through my recovery process. And my wonderful little boy Max who
is such a ray of sunshine in our lives.