On Thursday, May 3, the ArtXchange Gallery held a poetry reading featuring Alan Chong Lau, an artist, poet, editor, and organizer based in Seattle. The reading was held in conjunction with ArtXchange Gallery’s exhibition, “Between and Within: A Tenuous Beauty,” which explores the fleeting beauty of our world in the midst of climate change.
Lau’s poetry ranged from stories of the origins of his own artistry to sketches inspired by famous artists he is drawn to, including Ito Jakuchu, Giacometti, and Alice Neel. He contemplated his Asian-American upbringing and gave life to tranquil scenes with a good dose of humor.
His reading was not only a place to relax and laugh, but also a space to think. One audience member said, “It was quite a cerebral experience.”
Lau’s sketches often used sound-play to paint his feelings and experiences when viewing these artworks. Using short consonants, Lau could replicate quick playful strokes on a canvas, such as those seen in his own artwork and displayed as part of the exhibit. Lau’s visual artwork featured landscapes made with mixed media through quick, circular movements on a canvas of rice paper.
On the contrary, Lau could stretch out his vowels, slowly moving them through his entire body, to create a sense of languidness and ease. This technique was most notably used in his tribute to Thelonious Monk, in which long, languid vowels glided over smooth jazz from special guest, bassist Geoff Harper.
The two performers had not met until an hour and a half before the performance. Improvising and navigating the performance without rehearsal required both Lau and Harper to communicate silently.
“Alan is versed in improvisation,” Harper stated. “When he started talking about ‘Straight No Chaser,’ it was coming out of his mouth and I reacted. He would also stop and listen [to what I was playing].”
In addition to improvisation, community is also an important element to Lau’s art process.
“I think my motivation to do something with and for the community stems from my early days in the late ‘60s, when there was a ‘Third World’ student strike at SF State for Ethnic Studies,” said Lau. “I think SF State is one of the first universities in the country to have Ethnic Studies and classes, and that kind of experience made me feel that it’s important to give something back to the community, instead of just thinking of yourself.”
Certainly, the community responded to Lau’s art as if he had just given something back. As soon as Lau finished his final piece, the audience broke into applause and responded with a chorus of “Thank you Alan!”
Lau also works as the arts editor and a columnist at the International Examiner, an Asian Pacific Islander, non-profit newspaper based in Seattle. It is almost certain Lau will continue to write and perform in Seattle for a long time.
“It’s necessary for me to continue writing, in whatever form I can, whether it’s poetry or painting,” Lau said. “I just, can’t do anything else.”
Reach writer Victoria Naylor at email@example.com.