Main Library Features Student Artist

Jiang Zhu Henry Zhu stands before on of his watercolor paintings on special exhibition at the Alameda Free Library.

Sun Staff Reports

Painting in the traditional Chinese style is an approach that involves using Chinese ink and watercolors, special brushes and rice paper purchased in China, having a Taiwan-born and trained art teacher and speaking only Chinese in weekly studio art sessions. But high school senior, Henry Zhu, a senior at the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC), has always allowed a bit of California to creep into his Chinese landscapes, creating a distinctive style that blends East and West, traditional and modern.

"I definitely do some traditional Chinese series featuring seasons or flowers like bamboo, chrysanthemum, orchid and plum blossoms," he said. Zhu is currently working on a cactus with brightly-colored flowers in a traditional Chinese style and setting, but it’s not a traditional subject matter. "Living here, I’m influenced by Western colors and art styles, and plants that grow well in this climate," Zhu said.

Zhu took his first art class at about five years old. Originally an opportunity to do something social with friends and connect with his Chinese heritage, painting became a passion and a calming, creative outlet to escape the stress of school life. In addition to his three-hour weekly lessons, he paints whenever he can find the time — summer, school breaks and weekends. With his time constraints, a typical series of four paintings will take him about six months to complete. But painting time is getting harder to find.

Though painting and mechanical engineering may not be an obvious pairing, Zhu maintains they are deeply connected with a uniquely blended style steeped in Chinese culture with a twist of the modern.

"Aesthetics are an integral part of engineering, and both take training and discipline to execute well," said Zhu. "Plus, studying math and science all day can be tiring, but art is liberating. That’s why I will definitely continue to paint in college."

The Alameda Free Library, 1550 Oak St., is featuring Zhu’s art with a special exhibition through Thursday, Dec. 10. The Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts has awarded Zhu the gold medal in Chinese painting every year since 2011.