Artist’s can­vas in­cludes pro­mot­ing Chi­nese cul­ture

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By Deng Yu in Seat­tle lin­dadeng@chi­nadai­

In Seat­tle’s Chi­na­town, there is a stu­dio and art gallery called “Leyazhai”. If you walk into the stu­dio, you will see large Chi­nese paint­ings of ex­quis­ite beauty, cal­lig­ra­phy scrolls and tra­di­tional stone seal en­grav­ings.

You also will prob­a­bly find Deng Zuolie, a widely rec­og­nized Chi­nese-Amer­i­can artist paint­ing in the back room of his stu­dio.

Be­sides paint­ing and run­ning his gallery, which opened in 2001 and is the first one run by a Chi­nese im­mi­grant in Seat­tle, Deng has con­trib­uted to artis­tic ex­changes be­tween China and the US by or­ga­niz­ing sev­eral paint­ing ex­hi­bi­tions in both coun­tries for more than 10 years. To com­mem­o­rate Deng’s pro­mo­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture and art in the US, Ron Sims, for­mer King County ex­ec­u­tive, set Feb 28 as the “Deng Zuolie Day” in 2009.

Deng, 52, is also rec­og­nized as a com­mu­nity leader for his con­tri­bu­tions to Seat­tle’s Chi­nese com­mu­nity. He has been chair­man of the Wash­ing­ton Over­seas Chi­nese Artists As­so­ci­a­tion, and serves as vi­cepres­i­dent of the China Coun­cil for the Pro­mo­tion of Peace­ful Na­tional Re­uni­fi­ca­tion, Wash­ing­ton State Chap­ter. He is an hon­ored mem­ber of the Guang­dong Prov­ince Over­seas Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion, as well as a mem­ber of many other or­ga­ni­za­tions and as­so­ci­a­tions.

In 2006 when for­mer Chi­nese pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao vis­ited Seat­tle, Deng, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the lo­cal Chi­nese com­mu­nity, gave him his newly done paint­ing of China’s rivers and moun­tains as a gift.

“I had been think­ing of a paint­ing that could re­flect China af­ter about 30 years of open­ing-up and re­form. And the paint­ing — named Pros­per­ous Moth­er­land — ac­tu­ally had been started for al­most one year. When I got the ex­cit­ing news that pres­i­dent Hu would visit the US, I was in­spired and fin­ished the paint­ing in one night,” Deng re­called.

Deng started paint­ing at very early age. “My older broth­ers and I spent most of our child­hood at a mu­seum lo­cated close to my fa­ther’s of­fice build­ing at that time,” Deng said.

The mu­seum then be­came an “artist’s cra­dle” to Deng since it was where all types of artists gath­ered and showed their paint­ing skills. Given a paint­ing brush and rice paper, the 5-year-old art lover started his train­ing in Chi­nese paint­ing, helped by the artists who fre­quently vis­ited the mu­seum. By copy­ing fa­mous paint­ings at the mu­seum, his early art work cov­ered a wide range of sub­jects from land­scapes and flow­ers to birds and people.

Dur­ing his stud­ies at the Col­lege of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law in Guang­dong, Deng’s paint­ing of plum flow­ers won an award. He grad­u­ally built up his ex­per­tise in im­pres­sion­is­tic Chi­nese wa­ter color paint­ing. He com­bined Western-style paint­ing skills and the spirit of Chi­nese art to his work done in the US.

In 1999, at an art con­test hosted by the Asian Pa­cific Art In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, he was awarded the medal of art con­trib­u­tors. His paint­ings were then in­cluded in well-know pub­li­ca­tions such as Artists of Chi­nese Ori­gin in North Amer­i­can Di­rec­tory and The World Fa­mous Chi­nese Artists Almanac.

Deng was a civil ser­vant in Guangzhou, south­ern China’s Guang­dong prov­ince when he left for Seat­tle in 1989. Though now a suc­cess­ful artist, Deng re­calls that his first years in the US were very painful.

As a new­comer, he ex­pe­ri­enced the “cul­tural shock pe­riod”. He could not get ac­cus­tomed to the Amer­i­can life­style, so­cial cul­ture and lan­guage. “I had to start from scratch in an un­known land,” said Deng.

In those early years in the US, Deng worked as dish­washer, handy­man and cook in Chi­nese restaurants to save money to start his own busi­ness. Deng said he did not con­sider do­ing such jobs painful. What trou­bled him most were alien­ation and cul­ture shock, which he said turned him into a mem­ber of a vul­ner­a­ble mi­nor­ity group in the US from a mem­ber of Chi­nese main­stream so­ci­ety.

He faced prob­lems that all mi­nor­ity groups have to face in the US, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ment, hous­ing, the lan­guage bar­rier, chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal se­cu­rity.

“To over­come the cul­ture shock, we should do as the Amer­i­cans do in the US. What’s more, am­bi­tion and hard work can help us live a bet­ter life and gain spir­i­tual hap­pi­ness,” Deng said.

At the peak of his Amer­i­can life, Deng op­er­ated four restaurants with friends, but the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in 2001 caused a down­turn in the US cater­ing in­dus­try and forced him to close his restaurants.

Now Deng said he is fulfi his dream of be­ing an artist, and he hopes other Chi­nese im­mi­grants to the US who ex­pe­ri­enced cul­ture shock are re­al­iz­ing their Amer­i­can dreams.

“Take things as they come,” he said. “All you have to do is think a lit­tle harder and come up with a new so­lu­tion. Be­sides, by high­light­ing your own cul­ture, you ac­tu­ally help Chi­nese im­mi­grants to Amer­ica bet­ter in­te­grate into Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.”


Deng Zuolie has con­trib­uted to artis­tic ex­changes be­tween China and the US by or­ga­niz­ing sev­eral paint­ing ex­hi­bi­tions in both coun­tries for more than 10 years.

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