Chinese lion dances inspired my first childhood drawings. The giant head lifting
and bobbing, each menacing crouch and thrilling leap, and the colors--billowing,
ruffling, swirling, and diving waves of color. The lions shattered the blinding
light of the sun into a pulsating and energizing spectrum, and opened my eyes to
different worlds, both beyond and within me.
I drew my first lion dance in the third grade, and won my first award. The sight
of it posted on the bulletin board stirred feelings in me I never had before. My
family showed no interest in my childish works, so drawing became my refuge. It
provided me with a kind of emotional privacy in the crowded confines of our home
Only when I started learning to paint water colors during my first high school art
class did I finally begin to understand the power of art, and of the artist. My
teacher taught me how to recognize art, and how to appreciate it. He told me about
amazing places called art galleries. I persuaded my indifferent friend to come with
me on long bike rides through the maze of Kuala Lumpur's back streets searching for
As soon as I finished high school, I went to work to help support my family; and
as soon as I could save enough extra money, I started taking art classes to help
support myself. My teacher taught traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy,
with its pale pastel shapes, and bold black lines. In my years with him, I learned
to make the brush a part of my body, to respect the natural ways of the water, and
how to coax the pigment and the paper to cooperate in its midst. I learned how to
control, and how to acquiesce as I painted.
By the time I immigrated to the United States, I had produced dozens of paintings
that mostly sat rolled and stacked in my closet. Decades of new and unexpected challenges
and opportunities passed in my adopted country before I felt ready and able to return
to painting. When I went searching for a teacher, I looked with the eyes of the
boy watching the lion dance. I have had the good fortune to find a family of artists
who loved watercolor and embraced me.
Chinese watercolor and calligraphy taught me to be a disciplined technician. Western
watercolor has freed me to indulge my love affair with color. When east and west
come together in me, and I become an artist.
Click here to enter the art gallery.