Artist, writer, 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. “She’d guide our hands until they became extensions of her memory, until each character became her own,” he wrote.
Lau earned his BA in Art from the University of California – Santa Cruz in 1976. Post-college, Lau traveled extensively, including several visits to Japan where he studied sumi-e and brush painting at the Nanga School in Kyoto with mentor Nirakushi Toriumi. After moving to Seattle in 1978, Lau began exhibiting his artwork at Francine Seders Gallery. Lau developed a visual style that was inspired by the traditional brush painting techniques, but unfettered by strict tradition and free in his own interpretations. Primarily working on delicate Japanese rice paper, Lau layers sumi ink, watercolor, pastel, and other media to create abstract works with great depth yet surprising lightness.
Lau is also a published writer and poet. Collections of poetry include Songs for Jadina (1980), which won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Blues and Greens: A Produce Worker’s Journal (2000); and no hurry (2007). With Lawson Fusao Inada and Garrett Hongo, Lau authored The Buddha Bandits Down Highway 99 (1978). His work has appeared in anthologies such as From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900–2002 (2002) and What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (1998).
In 2015, Lau was awarded a $25,000 grant by the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, a merit-based award for established mid-career artists. Lau’s other honors and awards include fellowships from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, Seattle Arts Commission, California Arts Council, and Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan. Awards include the George Tsutakawa Memorial Artist Award (1999) and the Artist Trust Tenth Anniversary Presidents’ Award (1997). In 2014, Lau was given the title of Cultural Ambassador for the 2014 Mayor Arts Awards, in honor of his boundless efforts in the Seattle arts community.
In addition to multiple solo shows at the now retired Francine Seders Gallery, Lau has exhibited extensively in the Northwest and beyond. Major exhibitions include the Kyoto City Museum (Kyoto, Japan), Bumbershoot Festival (Seattle, WA), the Kittredge Gallery at the University of Puget Sound, the Center on Contemporary Art (Seattle, WA), the Washington State Capitol Building (Olympia), the Whatcom Museum (Bellingham, WA), Eye Level Gallery (Brighton, England), Citizen’s Cultural Center (Fujinomiya, Japan), Yakima Valley Museum of Art (Yakima, WA), the Museum of Northwest Art (La Conner, WA) and Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA), among many others.
Lau’s artwork resides in the collections of the City of Seattle, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Salem, OR), the King County Arts Commission, Microsoft Corporation, the Hyatt Regency (Bellevue, WA), Portland Art Museum, SAFECO Corporation, UW Medicine (Seattle, WA), the Weyerhaeuser Company, the Whatcom Museum (Bellingham, WA), the Wing Luke Museum (Seattle, WA) and was most recently collected by the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington for their permanent collection.
Lau has created painted illustrations for numerous books, poetry collections, and magazines including The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from around the World by Linda Lau Anusasananan (more information). Lau works as the Arts Editor for the International Examiner newspaper, which he has maintained for over 30 years, chronicling and encouraging Seattle’s APA arts community. Aside from making and writing about art, Lau organizes readings and creative events around Seattle. Lau’s visual artwork is represented by ArtXchange Gallery in Pioneer Square, Seattle.
“Lau’s abstractions might reference Mark Tobey’s overall abstractions, but Lau has his own visual vocabulary of squiggles and bleeps that delivers something altogether different from that of the old-school Northwest mystic.” – Sheila Farr, The Seattle Times, 2005