Edwin H.K. Chau (1929-1988) brought East and West together in his paintings to create beautiful images that balance, straddle and integrate the lines between contemporary/traditional subject matter and east/west vision and methods.
Born in Hong Kong, Edwin Chau starting sketching “en plein-air” with a group of artists led by Lee Bing in the 1950s, recording many scenes of rural Hong Kong that no longer exist and that have since been urbanized. From the western traditions of oils and watercolour painting, he turned next to traditional Chinese brush and ink paintings under the tutelage of Yeung Sin Sum, a 20th century master painter from the famous Ling Nam School in China. This tradition of painting deliberately aimed to create a synthesis of East and West. In this period, Chau painted many scrolls in the classical Chinese style of ink and natural pigments.
After immigrating with his family to Canada in 1973, he initially worked as accountant but soon returned to his great passion: painting. To become a full-time artist requires great skill and determination, a formidable frontier for any artist and an especially high-stakes choice for a recent immigrant establishing not only himself but his family in an entirely new setting. Yet Chau managed to become successful as an artist and art teacher in his new homeland. As a full-time artist, Chau blended the east and west in his unique style of watercolor landscapes and floral paintings. He became a much-loved teacher as well, sharing his passion for painting with the young and old.
Edwin Chau’s work is best characterized as being painterly and somewhat impressionistic. In the Eastern tradition, each and every brushstroke counts and the calligraphic beauty of the strokes is as important as what they are depicting. Regardless of subject matter, the quality of the brush strokes, the ambience created by the background and the overall composition are each important and distinctive qualities that at the same must blend in perfect harmony. Chau applied the Eastern methods and perspective to contemporary Western subject matter, making his subjects – whether streets, boats, buildings, people, flowers, still life or landscapes – take on an ethereal, almost timeless quality. At the same time, many of his works with Chinese subject matter – such as the rural street scenes of 1950s Hong Kong – take on a bolder, more textured character using Western techniques. This cross-over styling carries through to Chau’s watercolors and oils alike.
Struggling with health problems in his last years, Chau continued to paint and to teach on reduced schedule, leaving behind a legacy of unique and visually evocative works and many appreciative students in the Greater Toronto area. He has taught and exhibited in many places including the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edwards Gardens, Japanese Cultural Center, and Centennial College in the Toronto area as well as the Hunter Gallery in Markham and Studio Colleen in Ottawa.