Fay Chong: ‘I am more articulate with the brush than with the pen’

Alan Chong Lau April 15, 1990 0

Chinese American artist Fay Chong was born in Quandong, China in 1912. He came to Seattle in 1920 and attended Broadway High School from 1928-32. It was here, under the encouragement of an exceptional teacher, Hannah Jones, that he and classmates George Tsutakawa and Morris Graves began their early interest in art. Jones introduced them to printmaking and many of her students’ works were submitted and shown in competitions.

During the ‘30s, Chong as part of an informal group of artists that included Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Ambrose Patterson. They would meet for discussions and get together. In the early ’40s, he started the Chinese Art Club at 8th and Jackson with other Chinese American artists such as Andrew Chin, Howard Eng, Yippe Eng, and Larry Chinn.

As Larry relates, “We used to play tennis together and we wanted a place we could get together to do our art.” The Chinese Art Club had live model sessions, monthly exhibitions and also served as a clubhouse for others to study or paint.

Other artists such as Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and William Cumming would drop by to visit and sketch.

Chong was introduced to the WPA Project by Graves and from 1938 to ‘42, did an impressive series of lino-cuts on working scenes around the NW. Of this time he says, “We used to go to the south end of town, villages of unemployed people- Hoovervilles and make friends with people as we sketched.”

He also took some lessons from Mark Tobey in the late ‘30s.

Of his technique he said, “I was trying to maintain some Oriental background with the local environment, using the rice paper and Chinese ink, and most of my images at that time were … lines like wires, telephone poles, and TV antennas and so on. I feel that the Orientals stress so much on strength or energy in their work, and the strokes and lines could give it energy more than a wash painting … “

It isn’t clear when he began to take up the Chinese brush. It could have been after his studies with calligraphy in China or through the influence of his friend Andrew Chin. As Chin describes it, “When I knew Fay, he was mostly doing prints. I think I introduced him to brush painting.”

During the war, he worked as a draftsman and afterwards he was primarily an art teacher at places like Edison Technical School, YMCA and Lake Washington School District in Kirkland.

He received his B.A. and M.A. in Art Education at U.W. and had a number of shows on the West Coast and New York. Along with his wife Priscilla (a fabric artist), he continued to demonstrate his watercolor painting techniques at arts and crafts fairs.

It was Chong’s friendly personality and openness that enabled him to create his own styled based on Eastern tradition and Western watercolor techniques. As Chin explained, “I am more traditional in my art but Fay was more American in that he was always open to contemporary things.”

As Chong would say in a catalog for a show he had in the 1960s at Francine Seders Gallery, “As for me, I am not trying to translate in my language of painting the oriental heritage, the essence from the traditional past. I am more articulate with the brush than with the pen. Simplicity and energy are my destination.”

Fay Chong died of a heart attack in 1973 but his art lives on.

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