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 earning his BA in Art from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1976, Lau traveled to Japan where he studied sumi-e and brush painting at the Nanga School in Kyoto, with mentor Nirakushi Toriumi.
After settling in Seattle, Lau developed a 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.