Chinese Artists in the United States: A Chinese Perspective By Mayching Kao

Asian American Art – A History, 1850-1970
Chinese Artists in the United States
Excerpt from A Chinese Perspective

Pioneers of the Sino-American Artistic Contact: The Late Nineteenth Century to 1943

Another modernist among Chinese American artists is Yun Gee, also a native of Guangdong.  He went to join his father in California in 1921 and in 1924 decided to study art at the California School of Fine Arts, where he developed a keen interest in modernist styles, particularly cubism and synchromism.  His early artistic career showed promise, and he was accepted by the artistic circles in San Francisco, and later in Paris and New York.  However, after settling down in New York in 1939, he died there in 1963 in obscurity.  Torn between his passion for modern art and hi spiritual roots in Chinese culture that suffered in the discriminatory atmosphere of the United States, he encountered hardships, and his art received critical reviews.  His later years were plagued by alcoholism and ill health, and he was forgotten by the art world.  Only after his death was he rediscovered and his achievement recognized with a series of exhibitions in the United States and Taiwan.  Recent studies hail him as a Chinese, American, and modernist painter, as well as a pioneer in avant-garde art.  In Where Is My Mother, an early work dated 1926-1927, the young artist expresses his sorrow at leaving his mother behind in China, as many Chinese women were separated from their families in America, due to restrictive immigration laws.  The painting may also be interpreted as symbolic of the motherland that Yun Gee left behind.  It is inspired by his poem of the same title, which concludes:

I dreamed that I could bring her close,
Created the painter’s art
On the canvas
Mother looking out of the door,
By the mountain road a cart,
A plane in the air,
The ship on the sea.
Could I find my mother again?

With tears on his cheeks, the man in the portrait looks out with an expression of longing.  All forms are rendered in color prisms of yellow, ochre, and green, creating a rhythmic correlation of shapes and tones that inject a sense of order into the emotionally charged painting.

Mayching Kao
Mayching Kao
, is a renowned scholar in fine arts and art history, and formerly Director of the Art Museum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  She assumed the Deanship of the School of Arts and Social Sciences in January 1999. An Emeritus Fellowship was conferred on her by the Hong Kong Development Council in early 1999.