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Tuesday, September 15, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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2 New Exhibits At Wing Luke

Frank Fujii, graphic design and Laihong Tran, silk design, to Dec. 13 at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, 407 Seventh Ave. S. 623-5124. 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, until 7 p.m. Thursday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

"I take the best of the West and the best of the East for my art. It sounds trite, but it's what I do," says Frank Fujii. He has retired from teaching art at Cleveland and Franklin high schools and Seattle Central Community College, but not from making art.

A new show of his work at the Wing Luke Asian Museum contains work in all media, including Elmer's Glue. Drizzled onto rice paper in thick lines then sprayed gold, the glue painting looks solid as metal.

It's one of many lighthearted innovations Fujii shows. Pointing out designs taken from samurai sword guards painted onto a box, he says, "I didn't realize I was incorporating my ethnic background into my art, but I guess that's what I was doing."

He does it in many ways. Following his wife's death 3 1/2 years ago, Fujii cut up one of her obi kimono sashes to create a design in her memory. The collaged geometric strips with their rich patterns looked so good that he included several versions in the show. One of them, titled "Kimonono," means "kimono that goes on forever."

Fujii is a designer; it's no surprise that a strong design sense underlies all his work. But that alone could make sterile art. Fujii adds thought content. Everything has meaning. One broad, waving brush stroke is titled "Way of Life, With its Ups and Downs."

A number of his paintings include a likeness of the heavy-browed Daruma, the round-bottomed red doll often seen prominently placed in Japanese places of business.

"If you knock him over, he bounces right back up. He's an inspiration for life," Fujii says.

From his graphics background Fujii can work tight, with a controlled hand. The surprise is to find that he produces loose, expressive brush strokes with equal ease. He puts both capabilities to excellent use in soft landscapes with full moon.

Fujii's work is co-featured at the Wing Luke with painted silk by Laihong Tran, who came to Seattle with the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants, in 1975. A painter on silk, she has continued the exacting craft in her new home.

Fine white silk is stretched over needles in an adjustable frame. Tran applies a silk resist, or gutta, to the fabric, drawing on the design with a metal-tipped applicator. Continuous lines will confine dyes and paints to a specific area; broken lines will allow colors to bleed and blend.

When the resist is in place, Tran brushes on the design with liquid fabric paints and dyes. It's much like painting a watercolor. Some areas are scarcely more than a muted blush; others are richly saturated with color.

When the design is complete, Tran lays in background dyes with a sponge brush. It must be applied quickly, to avoid dark edge lines of dried dye.

Some paints are made permanent by applying a fixative; others are set with a hot iron, or steam-set by being rolled onto a cardboard tube and placed in a steamer for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

Tran's themes come from nature. Scarves and traditional Vietnamese dresses are showered with flowers and stylized waves. A special design shows the white Queen of the Night orchid cactus, which blooms during the night and lasts only four hours.

"Its fragrant beauty is fleeting and special. Vietnamese elders would gather at midnight to celebrate the blooming of Queen of the Night," Tran notes.

Fabric painting has been a highly developed art form in some periods of Asian history, such as late 5th and early 6th century China. A few Northwest fiber artists include it in their repertoire. Tran is probably unique in having been classically trained in this traditional craft.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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