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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author
Introduction, page 6 of 8

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Introduction, Page 7

Some artists during these decades often looked to explore the legacy of ink painting as an Asian cultural signifier. Japanese American printmakers of the 1920s, like woodblock artist Teikichi Hikoyama (1884–1957) and etcher Kazuo Matsubara (1885–unknown; see Fig. 6), and scores of Japanese American modernist photographers borrowed tropes from Japanese classical art in their contemporary work. Long before the development of art derived from identity-based cultural politics, many Asian American artists were interested in expressing their engagement with the high culture of Asia, even if they were educated in— and sometimes even born in—the United States. Artists including Tyrus Wong (b. 1910), who was educated at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and Wing Kwong Tse (1902–1993), who was educated at the University of Southern California but worked in San Francisco, developed innovative ink paintings during the 1930s. Both Wong and Tse were born in China but moved to the United States as children. Similarly, some of the leading figures of the regionalist American watercolor movement of this period were also Chinese American, including Oakland-born Dong Kingman (1911–2000), who was celebrated on the West Coast in the 1930s, and Chen Chi (1912–2005), beginning in the 1940s in New York. Their art sometimes reflects the formats of scroll painting and compositional approaches learned from Chinese painting even though their use of watercolor pigments sets their work apart. The work of both was widely emulated.

Early proponents of a specifically Chinese-style ink painting in California included Yang Ling-fu, who first rose to prominence in China during the 1920s, becoming the first woman in China to be director of an art college. But because that school was located in Manchuria and in the path of the Japanese invading armies, she fled, relocating first to Europe and then, in 1936, to the United States. Shu-chi Chang and Wang Chi-yuan both moved to the United States in 1941. Initially, both arrived in California, but Wang soon moved to New York. Shu-chi Chang enjoyed a high profile after presenting to Franklin Delano Roosevelt a mural-scale ink and watercolor painting he had brought with him from China. Titled Messengers of Peace, the work included an inscription by Chiang Kai-shek. This painting also demonstrates Shu-chi Chang’s innovative blended brush technique, which incorporated thick white gouache with mineral pigment and ink in single strokes. Shu-chi Chang enjoyed a strong career of significant exhibitions in America’s most prestigious museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts during the years of World War II. He later had a successful business in art publishing. Meanwhile, Wang Chi-yuan was active in New York, where his work was collected and exhibited in homes as a proud marker of Chinese heritage.
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