Artist, poet, and community organizer Alan Lau grew up in Paradise, California. In his first book, The Buddha Bandits Down Highway 99, Lau recalls early memories of his grandmother teaching him calligraphy in her kitchen – his first experience with the brush. After traveling to Japan to study sumi-e and nanga brush painting under Toriumi Nirakushi, Lau attended the University of California – Santa Cruz, receiving his BA in Art in 1976.
By the late 1980s, Lau had settled in Seattle and developed his visual style rooted in the Chinese Literati tradition and Northwest modernism; inspired by traditional brush painting techniques, but unfettered by strict tradition. Lau primarily works on delicate Japanese rice paper, layering sumi ink, watercolor, pastel, and other media to create abstract works with great depth yet surprising lightness. Lau's visual artwork has been exhibited since the 1970s at numerous venues including Francine Seders Gallery, ArtXchange Gallery, and an extensive list of regional and international museums and collections. In 2014, Lau was awarded the Mayor's Arts Award by the City of Seattle and was the recipient of a major award by the Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation in 2015.