Centenarian Paul Hau has museums named after him in his native China and his work has been exhibited throughout the Bay Area and the world.
His work finally came home when the Los Altos History Museum debuted its latest exhibition, “Hau Beiren at 100,” Oct. 13.
The display, which uses Hau’s Chinese name instead of his adopted English name, shows how the artist was affected by his five decades in Los Altos.
“When he came here, his painting was more classical in approach,” said guest curator Mark Johnson, a professor at San Francisco State University. “Over time, his work changed radically. America changed the artist, as well as the other artists he engaged with over here.”
Johnson noted that the Bay Area is a capital of 20th-century Chinese art, and that Hau is one of the region’s elder statesmen.
“Anything that is important in 20th-century Chinese Art is an important part of global art history,” Johnson added.
Hau specializes in post-modern takes on traditional landscape paintings. He uses a centuries-old splashed color technique to add an ethereal quality to his work.
“Hau’s work is sort of a window to a different place, with a different philosophical foundation and a different art history,” explained Johnson. “Landscape paintings are a philosophical inquiry. There is an abstraction going on in these paintings.”
Johnson describes Hau’s technique as spilling the ink and waiting for it to reveal how it will be transformed into a landscape.
“You look at it and say, ‘My God, what is it?’” Johnson said. “And then you see the painting’s … cosmic significance. The painting is a bold, dramatic and atmospheric soulscape.”
According to Karen Purtich of the Los Altos History Museum, it is Los Altos’ first bilingual exhibition. She said the display is part of a conversation with the growing Chinese-American community living in Los Altos. Susan Chen, an artist who has been training under Hau for approximately 10 years, agreed.
“It is important for the city of Los Altos to respect a master living in their city,” Chen said. “His art transition, from traditional to now, is due to his exposure to the city of Los Altos.”
Johnson called the exhibition “a different kind of civic negotiation.”
“A great master is in their backyard,” he said.
“Hau Bieren at 100” is on display through Nov. 13. The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. Hours
are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free.
For more information, visit losaltoshistory.org.