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Celebrating AAPI: West Honors East in our world of art

Updated: Jun 7

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage and AAPI in art, I am co-authoring this blog with my Joy of Drawing friend, Josephine Deciron. Josephine is Taiwanese-American, grew up in Southern California, graduated architectural school from the prestigious UC Berkeley and has been applying her user-first training and foundational drawing skills in leading tech and user experience design teams in the SF Bay Area ever since. She has been a significant force in The Joy of Drawing, really paving the way to help us grow to the next level in terms of operations, programming, and curriculum. Our blog is divided into two parts with two perspectives in conversation: the first coming from myself representing WEST, and then ending up with Josephine, representing EAST. We hope you enjoy it. 



If I want inspiration or have reached an impasse with my drawing or painting, a trip to a good gallery will do the trick for me.

But there are two exhibitions in my life that had a deep and lasting effect.

The first was in London in my early 20s.  It was at the Tate Britain in 1968 that I first saw computer graphics displayed on monitors sitting on white plinths. - - amazing early work from the Cybernetics group from the Bay Area of California. All I wanted was to go join them although I was an artist and knew nothing of computers!  Little did I know that 45 years later I would move here to join my tech son and his family!

But it is the second exhibition that introduces the topic of this blog.

Living now in the Bay area I went to the Asian Art Museum.  I had no idea what awaited me and the profound influence it would have on my life and art.

The exhibition was aptly titled WHERE EAST MEETS WEST.

It documented the profound influence of Japanese art, and specifically Japanese woodcuts, on artists of the 19th century, from Monet to Van Gogh and beyond. 

Imagine my surprise when I stood in front of  a wonderful print by Hiroshige (now one of my favorite artists) and beside it a carefully executed tracing in in color by Vincent Van Gogh!

It made me mad. Where was my early art education at?  How come none of my art professors had ever made the slightest mention of this to say nothing of the art books?  What else where they hiding from me?

This exhibition explained so much as to how and why there was such a sea change in art in the 19th century.  It was not the only reason, but it was a major one.

And it reminded me of the truth of Picasso’s outrageous statement:

“All artists copy.  Great artists steal”.

Honest and truthful for here I saw one of the wonderful Katsushika Hokusai prints of Mount Fuli beside an iconic painting of a haystack by Claude Monet.  Immediately my own art began to reflect this newfound discovery.  Asian perspective instead of European linear perspective; the practice of cutting off objects and the use of the diagonal in composition - all new to the western art world. No wonder Monet became an early collector as did his fellow artists.  

Van Gogh owned over 500 Japanese woodcut prints and even tried becoming a dealer.  He fervently believed Arles was Japan of Europe and tried to get fellow artists to join him there.  Shortly after seeing the exhibition, I noticed the van Gogh Museum began to acknowledge the influence that Japanese art had on him as other galleries. 

If you live in the Bay area, check out the current exhibition at the Legion of Honor:

The cross pollination of the art of one culture upon another is, for me, one of the most fascinating aspects of studying art.  Following closely on the heels of the influence of Japan on the young artists in Europe came the art from Africa that has profound influence, on artists of the early 20th century as outlined in my earlier blog honoring Black History month. And this continues through to today .

Most recently I have been thrilled with the following exhibits featuring Asian art:

Team Lab from Tokyo with their interactive exhibition that I first saw in Menlo Park in 2015.

Murakami Monsterized at the Asian Art Museum in 2023

Yayoi Kusami at SF MOMA. And so I pay homage to the incredible influence of Asian art and Asian people on our Western culture. Not only does their history of creativity stretch way back into the annals of time, but closer to home we owe them for the very existence of California when they opened it up by building the railroads that allow us to travel over the mountains and settle in beautiful state of California that I am very proud to call my home. And, for that, I say "THANK YOU!"



I first came across Maya Lin in Architecture school, leafing through her sketches, mesmerized by the way she interplayed word, text, drawings, and space. The book itself felt like a piece of artwork.

For me, Maya Lin’s work - be it architecture, or book design, felt like art with intentionality. She made otherwise structured designs feel like artistic statements. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that when I walked through Yayoi Kurami’s exhibit at SF MOMA, I suddenly felt like I was walking through a space where art had come to life.

For one, it’s if architecture were art; for the other, it is as if art became architecture.

I don’t think you can talk about Asian American art, particularly in the context of drawing, without at least acknowledging the impact of Japanese animation on the current 2D animation and comics landscape. There’s something about the accessibility of the characters with big eyes and over-the-top expressions that have permeated and intertwined with modern pop art in a true sense of globalization. Miyazaki is a fantastic artist, extremely detailed and controlled with his sketches and watercolors - an expert at using drawing for storytelling.

Miyazaki’s choice of media are simply a 2B pencil and watercolor, and his mastery is in how he is able to simplify his lines and color to convey story. Various contemporary artists beyond those in the animation industries have been inspired by Miyazaki, and there will continue to be.

We needn’t only look towards Japan to find inspiration. Closer to the Americas, Hawaiian landscape and art has continuously been a source of awe, notably traditional Hawaiian tattooing as a spiritual and artistic process. Georgia O’Keeffe, famous for her florals, spent 9 weeks in Hawaii, creating numerous drawings inspired by the Aloha State. 

Even closer in the United States but still along the Pacific, in California, stamp collectors may recognize the 2020 Ruth Asawa stamps that honor not only Ruth Asawa’s artistry but her civic contributions.

It seems a fitting time to pay tribute to AAPI artists past and present, who have enriched art history, and made an indelible mark in our collective consciousness. 

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1 Comment

Thank you

Very insightful

Learned much

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