Shar­ing talent, her­itage and cul­ture through art BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By MAY ZHOU in Hous­ton mayzhou@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

At the Asian Her­itage Gala hosted by the Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Her­itage As­so­ci­a­tion ear­lier this month, Hous­ton sculp­tor Willy Wang was hon­ored with the distin­guished Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment Award for his artis­tic cre­ations, as well as his years of ser­vice to the com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing free art lessons to people of all ages and eth­nic­i­ties.

Wang, whose sculp­tures grace pub­lic spa­ces from Bei­jing to Hous­ton, from Wash­ing­ton to Los Angeles and other cities around the world, has been teach­ing artists and art lovers sketch­ing for more than 20 years as a way of giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity.

Some of Wang’s works, such as Madame Sun Yat-Sen, Spring in Pamirs and Kazak Hunter, are part of the collection of the Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China (NAMOC) in Bei­jing.

His sculp­tures stand on the cam­puses of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity in the east and the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the west. Since Hous­ton has been his home for more than 30 years, his sculp­tures can be found at lo­cal parks, con­ven­tion cen­ters, hos­pi­tals, col­leges and other places.

The sub­jects of his works in­clude fa­mous fig­ures such as for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H. W. Bush, ac­tor Cary Grant, Chi­nese states­man Sun Yat­sen and Je­sus Christ. But or­di­nary people, such as a nurse or a peas­ant girl, have also be­come mar­velous art works.

His re­cent statue of Je­sus, made for the Methodist Hospi­tal, was so well re­ceived that a to­tal of eight copies have been casted so far. His works in pri­vate col­lec­tions are even more nu­mer­ous.

Born in 1938, Wang has had a life rich with ex­pe­ri­ence. His fa­ther, an en­gi­neer who stud­ied in the US, Ger­many and the for­mer Soviet Union, made ex­tend­ing rail­roads into the back­lands of China his life’s work, a true trail­blazer of his time.

Con­stantly on the move, Wang saw many dif­fer­ent parts of China grow­ing up. “My par­ents have nine chil­dren and each of us was born in a dif­fer­ent city,” Wang said. “I came into con­tact with other eth­nic people grow­ing up.”

When Wang was 5 years old, his par­ents took him to a Kazak event and he ren­dered his im­pres­sion on paper: two brightly dressed Kazak girls with flut­ter­ing white feath­ers tucked in their hats. Pleas­antly sur­prised and re­al­iz­ing his fourth child had artis­tic talent, Wang’s fa­ther made a sketch­book for him. From then on, Wang’s par­ents al­ways tried their best to get pens and paints when­ever pos­si­ble and Wang hasn’t stopped paint­ing since.

When Wang was a teenager his fam­ily set­tled down in Bei­jing. His talent en­abled him to take art lessons of­fered at the pres­ti­gious China Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) to mid­dle and high school stu­dents. His love of art was so great that he de­cided to ap­ply to CAFA af­ter com­plet­ing high school. Af­ter rounds of tests, he was one of the seven ad­mit­ted to the sculp­ture depart­ment in 1957, an achieve­ment in its own.

Why sculp­ture? “My fa­ther had a collection of art books and I was fa­mil­iar with the works of Da Vinci, Raphael and such when I was grow­ing up,” Wang said. “I found Rodin and Michelan­gelo most in­spir­ing. I wanted to be like them.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with high marks, Wang worked at the pres­ti­gious Ar­chi­tec­ture Art Sculp­ture Com­pany, which spe­cial­ized in mon­u­men­tal sculp­ture in China. He was one of the artists who worked on the group sculp­ture stand­ing on Tianan­men Square to­day. It was around this time that his works were col­lected by the NAMOC.

One of the most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences for Wang was the year he spent in Ti­bet in the 1970s. He be­came good friends with some Ti­betans, learn­ing about the his­tory of their hard­ship. Some Ti­betans be­came the sub­jects of his now fa­mous Ti­bet se­ries of draw­ings.

In 1981, Wang

de­cided to come to the US and have a look at art in the out­side world.

His first stop was Los Angeles and im­me­di­ately his talent was dis­cov­ered. Some pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and many art pa­trons com­mis­sioned him for sculp­tures as well as paint­ings. Dur­ing that time, he did a bust for Cary Grant, which the movie star ap­par­ently loved.

One art pa­tron in Hous­ton was so im­pressed with Wang’s talent he in­vited him to Texas. Wang went to Hous­ton in 1983 and hasn’t left since. Over the years, Wang has been cre­at­ing sculp­tures, paint­ings, draw­ings and mu­rals for pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions as well as pri­vate col­lec­tors around the world.

Wang was in­vited to teach at Hous­ton’s Art League in 1992 when he first went to the city, and he found that many stu­dents need ba­sic skills. He of­fered to teach sketch­ing for free on week­ends.

“That f ree class

has stretched on for 22 years with­out stop since then,” Wang said with a laugh. It even has a name: Willy Wang Work­shop (WWW).

Wang, who has never been mar­ried, calls his stu­dents his big in­ter­na­tional fam­ily. It is es­ti­mated that more than 1,000 pro­fes­sional artists and art lovers have stud­ied at WWW.

WWW is not just about art lessons, it’s also about cul­tural ex­change. Ev­ery year the group gath­ers to cel­e­brate Chi­nese New Year. Wang also or­ga­nizes a group trip ev­ery cou­ple of years and China has been their most fre­quent des­ti­na­tion. Wang has led his stu­dents not only to big cities like Bei­jing and Shang­hai, but also to the Silk Road, Ti­bet, Pamir and other re­mote places.

Through the trips, stu­dents have learned what they would other­wise not be able to about Chi­nese his­tory, its people and cul­ture. Wang’s con­tri­bu­tions in cre­at­ing and teach­ing art, and bridg­ing cul­tural un­der­stand­ing caught the at­ten­tion of Hous­ton Mayor An­nise Parker who has dubbed Wang a “cul­tural pro­moter”.

Most re­cent ly, Wang em­barked on a new project: do­nate his ma­jor art works not in pri­vate col­lec­tions but to the pub­lic and build a multi-func­tion mu­seum to house his life­time of work and of­fer ed­u­ca­tion in art. It won’t be easy, but Wang is de­ter­mined to see it through.

MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY

Sculp­tor Willy Wang talks about his art at his home.

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