Seong Moy

Seong Moy (1921-2013) was a Chinese born American painter and graphic artist who is best known for his  color woodcut illustrations of the 8th Century Chinese poems of Li Po. Moy sought to “recreate, in the abstract idiom of contemporary time, some of the ideas of ancient Chinese art forms” through his modernist renditions of Chinese calligraphy. 

Moy was born in a small town outside of Canton, China, in 1921. At the age of ten, Moy’s family emigrated to the United States and took residence in St. Paul, Minnesota. Moy began his formal arts education at the age of thirteen, when he began taking classes at the Federal Art Project while attending high school in St. Paul. He later attended the St. Paul School of Art, where he received a classical arts education, and the WPA Graphic Workshop at the Walker Art Center, where he learned lithography, etching, and silkscreen, and taught himself woodcuts.

In 1941, Moy was awarded a scholarship from the Art Students League in New York City, he studied under modernist painter, Vaclav Vytlacil . Although Moy had particularly wanted to work with Vytlacil, he describes his experience as Vytlacil’s student as “a disaster”:

I never received any direct criticism. There were occasions when I believe that a less determined student would have been sunk or destroyed by this kind of indifference. I felt it was an abuse. And I do recall very vividly toward the end of my enrollment I got some very, very unexpected contrary marks to my ability and capability of continuing to be an artist.

During this period, Moy also studied at the Hans Hofmann School, where he studied under abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann. Drawings by Seong Moy done during his time at the Hans Hofmann School were featured in the exhibition In Search of the Real: Hans Hofmann and His Students at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum from August 7-October 11, 2009.

Moy’s education was supplemented by his visits to museums, his favorites where the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and galleries, where he said you could go to five galleries and see five completely different styles of work. The artists who were his strongest influences at this time included Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard, and Miro. With each of these artists he admired a different aspect of their work, Matisse’s use of color, Miro’s imagery, and Picasso for his controversy, his surprising innovations and his every shifting styles.

In 1948, Moy received a fellowship to study printmaking at  Stanley William Hayter‘s legendary Atelier 17 graphic arts studio in New York. It was the ideal environment for Moy, who had a strong educational background, but needed a studio for printmaking. The workshop was a center for the exchange of artistic ideas and the development of new techniques in printmaking. Moy described Atelier 17 as “an exchange of points of view, exchange of ideas, what one is trying to do and searching for some newness in technical innovations to fit in with a situation.” At Atelier 17, Moy met artists Adolph Gottlieb, Pearl Fine, and Peter Grippe, along with visiting artists Miro and Chagall. Moy found that despite the success of some of these artists, they were able together in a harmonious, cooperative environment.

In 1950 Moy received a Whitney Fellowship, the first big award of his career. As a result of this prestigious award, he was offered a visiting artist position at the University of Minnesota, which began his teaching career. Moy went on to teach at the University of Indiana, Smith, Vassar, and Columbia. In 1955, Moy was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to produce his color woodcut illustrations for the 8th Century Chinese poems of Li Po.

Moy’s work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions and is held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum and the New York Public Library. In 2008, at the age of 85, Moy returned to the rural villages where he and his wife had been born. He was accompanied by his wife, daughters and grandchildren.  Seong Moy died in New York on June 9, 2013.

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