Monday, April 26, 2010
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Depth of colors and hidden imagery highlight artist's work

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[April 26, 2010]  In 1960, Hong Tatt Foo came to the United States from Malaysia. He had been awarded a scholarship for higher education in the United States and chose to begin his college career at Lincoln College, majoring in art.

When he graduated in '62 with his associate degree, he then enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in art.

Hong Tatt Foo, Lincoln College alumnus, Class of 1962, stands with his painting “Song of the Spirit,” which he has gifted to the college. Foo was in Lincoln for alumni weekend, showing his collection of original art.

After college, Foo returned to Malaysia for a time, but eventually he found himself back in the U.S., on the eastern seaboard, perfecting his craft, teaching, writing two books and hosting several solo art exhibits.

Foo has taken his art on multiple occasions to Malaysia, Tanzania, Beijing, Singapore and Kenya, as well as several noted U.S. galleries. He has also written two books on his craft: "Paradise Regained," published in 2000, and "Poetic Impulse and Fragrance of Spirituality," published in 2002.

In addition to all this, he has been an art educator in Trenton, N.J.; Long Island, N.Y.; and Allentown, Pa.

Most art educators will tell their students that art is best appreciated from a distance of at least 10 to 15 feet. For the artistry of Foo, this is true, as from a distance his work reflects brilliant colors and flowing shapes. Many of his pieces appear to be landscapes, waterscapes or lovely, brightly colored gardens. At a distance each work is a feast for the eye indeed.

But step in to within a foot or two of the paintings, and be prepared for the hidden treasures that Foo subtly implants in each work of art.

For example, this painting, entitled "Blue Falls at Sunrise," from a distance is clearly a flowing waterfall with a pair of cranes standing at the base of the fall.

In the background the sun streaks the sky with brilliant orange and yellow as it starts to peek over the horizon at the beginning of a new day.

However, step in closer, and you'll find three lovely little bluebirds hidden in the flowing waters.

Two are top center in the picture above, both facing the same direction, but with the one on the left turning his head to look back at his mate. Directly below the two and slightly to the left of the white crane is a third, smaller bluebird, looking upward toward the other two.

These little surprises are something that the observer will find in virtually every painting Foo does. Hidden elements range from birds to fish and butterflies, to lovely portraits of women.

Foo shared his technique, saying that his signature works start with a wet canvas. He waters the canvas, then drops color onto it. As the paint and water interact, the color flows around the canvas, making its own shape and design.

Foo's talent comes in seeing what the flowing colors can become. In the painting above, Foo saw flowing water and began there with building the painting.

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At his exhibit at Lincoln College on Saturday afternoon, many of the paintings were of Foo's signature style.

However, one stood out as being much different from all the others.

While the painting is not whimsical, it is full of symbolism and evokes a certain emotion for the viewer.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Foo was living just 50 miles from the World Trade Center. He witnessed on television the plane crashing into the second tower, and he knew that one of his very best friends was inside that building.

Luckily, his friend was one of the few who were able to escape before the towers came crashing down. But it moved Foo to do a painting that would be a tribute to those who were lost.

At the base of the painting one can barely see the twin towers engulfed in flames and smoke. As the smoke rises, the stars implanted on the gray to white ribbons commemorate the souls lost that day. The American flag symbolizes the patriotism of our country. The white ribbons form a rose in remembrance, and in the center of the rose is a broken heart.

In the guidebook for the exhibit, Debbie Ackerman, the vice president for institutional advancement of Lincoln College, wrote: "His paintings, full of glorious colors, seemingly shifting shapes and gentle, flowing rhythms, reward the viewer who looks more than once, as layer after layer of meaning is revealed deep beneath their surfaces. In their complexity lies the simple peace and joy at the heart of Hong's work and world."

Foo will be in Lincoln through the first of the week. On Monday afternoon he will host a demonstration of his unique technique at the new Lincoln Center.


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