As a young child growing up in a small town in the northwestern part of China, Allen Wang '22 already knew that art would be a part of his life. But it was a stroke of luck, or fate, that put Allen in an art studio nearly every day for four years before the age of ten.
Allen's father made the bold decision to pursue a law degree on a lightning-fast track, giving himself one year to get his degree. He moved to Shanghai while Allen's mother remained home in Xi'an to work and support the whole family. Each day after school, Allen's mother sent him to the art studio so that she could work late. Here began Allen's journey as a budding young artist who would go on to win an impressive two Gold Key awards, two Silver Key awards (one of which for his portfolio - the most advanced level of art in the competition), and two honorable mentions in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition this year.
Below the Wave, by Allen Wang '22
What was it like for you when your father left home to study in Shanghai?
While my father was away, Mum had to work all day to support us. I was always waiting for her, standing in front of the school gate after school until very late or sleeping on the sofa in Aunt Zhang's apartment downstairs. When Mum was at work, I would have to spend my time in a local art studio. There, my interest in drawing bloomed.
After your father earned his law degree, your family moved to Shanghai. Tell us about that experience.
Moving to Shanghai was a big transition for my family, especially for me in school. I was struggling academically in almost all subjects, particularly English. I had to spend extra hours catching up with my classmates. Everything works very differently in Shanghai — the pace is super fast and people always rush around, but I was excited to be in this new environment.
Did you continue to spend time in an art studio in Shangai?
My father found a studio for me where I continued learning pencil drawings and began to experiment with other media. I would spend the entire day at the studio. Only when the lights flickered on the streets did I bike my way home.
Dad also bought me an easel for my first birthday in Shanghai. When he was at work, I would set up my drawing board and easel and draw bowls, fruits, and whatever else jumped into my mind. When the pencil rustled on the paper, when each apple emerged on the canvas, I could no longer hear the shouts from the fruit stand downstairs or the clamor from the grocery stores across the street. I enjoyed drawing there, especially on rainy days or around dawn.
Meanwhile, I began to look at famous artists and their works. I admire world-renowned painter Hong Leung, and his son, Thomas Leung, who later became my mentor. He introduced me to Western oil painting. We also developed a family-like relationship, and I'm planning to visit H Leung in the coming summer.
Your recent accomplishments in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition are remarkable. Your paintings, "Below the Wave" and "Under the Sea," are so large, detailed, and vibrant that they immerse the viewer into the action of the painting. How do you achieve this?
Growing up in the northwestern part of China, I have an innate appreciation of nature. Thus I created a series of marine paintings to not only showcase the magnificent views of the underwater world but also to inspire viewers to protect our oceans.
I believe that to be a good artist means to make the painting subjects even better on canvas. Thus I used both brushes and palette knives to express different textures. For example, in the painting "Below the Wave," I used brushes focusing on the details of the dolphins and light reflections, and then I switched to a palette knife to show the power of the roaring wave. In "Under the Sea" I used palette knives to create the bulky and layered coral reefs. Painting with palette knives is hard, but it allows me to practice and to learn different techniques.
I had never painted such large-scale paintings before; I hoped to use the size to give viewers a "shock." In my art show last summer, I displayed my three big marine paintings together side by side and it really drew people in. They gathered around my artworks, chatting to each other and snapping photos.
I use art to document my memories as well as to dream. During COVID in 2020, I created a series of fantasy worlds. I ran on the endless open field where dragons glide high overhead, I explored a giant mushroom world where elves reside, and I dove into deep oceans to wander around human remains. I'm so happy that my "what if" series also received recognition from this year's scholastic art competition.
How has your art education at Govs influenced your development as an artist? What do you enjoy most about being a proctor in Kaiser?
I really enjoy doing arts at Govs because I have the chance to have fun with different media, including photography, ceramics, film, and even theater. All the different art forms liberated my creativity and self-expression. I attended Govs virtually last year, during which time I took AP studio art with Ms. Struck. I'm really thankful for her support and care. She would mail me the art supplies and schedule a meeting with me anytime I had questions about my art inquiry pieces.
This year, I'm running the School Art Club with other Govs artists including Judy ‘23 and Bach ‘22, who are both brilliant artists, and together we host biweekly club meetings. We lead club members to try out different art mediums such as ceramics, digital drawing, and Chinese calligraphy. We are currently planning to organize photography field trips this spring.
I'm also excited to have been selected to serve as the proctor in Kaiser this year. To me, the most enjoyable thing is just spending my Sunday afternoon at Kaiser. Not only can I really calm myself down and focus on my work, but also I have the chance to talk to people about their work.
What's next for you as an artist? Will you pursue art in college and beyond?
In college, I plan to major in fine art. I will continue my oil painting practice because I was really astonished by its elegance, mood, and permanence. In the next chapter of my painting, I will focus on creating the mood and the feeling rather than the objects. Meanwhile, I'm interested in experimenting with a more hybrid style in college, such as installation, collage, or other interactive media. I wish to create another tech-driven marine art show in which my turtles would swim in open space. I'm always excited to try new techniques and blend in with traditional classical paintings.
I've also been thinking about majoring in architecture. I'm very interested in oriental wooden architecture because I grew up in the most historic place of China, which once had the most remarkable wooden architectural groups in the country.
No matter what I do, art will always be my hobby. It's a part of me. I feel naturally connected to everything about it—the smell of paint, the feel of a brush in my hand. Even as a child, I could sit for eight hours straight and paint or scribble with chalk on concrete in my backyard. It's always there no matter where I go. The easel next to the window has already become clad in traces of mottled lines and bright colors. It also traced my growth as an artist across time. My innocent love of art has never changed, and it never will.
Read more about the achievements of other Govs students in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition and view a gallery of submissions.