Serving up ‘the joy of the koi’

24th in an occasional series

He came from China with the ability to cook and the desire to paint. So the chef would dash between his wok and his canvas in the kitchen of a Southcenter restaurant. The cooking paid the bills and the painting fed his soul.

“I worked every day with no days off the first 10 years here,” said Zuolie Deng, who came to America in 1988.

He loved painting from as early as he could recall.

“I’m self-taught; I learned by myself,” he says in Mandarin, through a translator. Deng apologizes often for his English, though he is fluent in two Chinese dialects and conversational in English. Growing up near a museum, he visited it daily. “My father said go every day for an education. So, I saw many famous paintings.”

Artists in the museum gave the youngster brushes and pencils. Now 49, he makes his living as an artist. It pays the bills.

“But most important,” says Deng, “is your audience be touched by your art.”

He paints koi often. His watercolors bring them to life.

“Koi represent very good luck, beauty and peace,” he says. “I can feel the joy of the koi as they swim.”

How much fame his art will ultimately bring is not known. About success he says, “Picasso was famous during his life. Van Gogh, famous after his life. Not everyone is as lucky as Picasso.

“That’s why you should live a long life. Do not die too soon.”

Alan Berner: or 206-464-8133

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