Internationally-known Chinese-American artist James Leong has died at the age of 81 in Seattle. Well-known in Europe for his romantic style and mixed media/acrylic murals and paintings, Leong died on April 15 of congestive heart failure.
Born in 1929 in San Francisco, Leong was a classically-trained painter who studied at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California and received both a Fulbright Fellowship in 1956 to study in Norway and later a Guggenheim Fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome. Leong was inspired by Chinese-American history, and painted the first mural of the history of the Chinese in America, on permanent display at the Chinese Historical Society of American in San Francisco. His series of work in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre also remains on display in San Francisco at Togonon Gallery.
He also worked in the early 1950s with a team of Union Carbide chemists and artists to develop a plastic medium that later became acrylic paint.
After three decades in Italy, Leong relocated to Seattle in 1994, and served as city arts commissioner and on several museum advisory boards. He was nominated in 1997 for a National Medal for the Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts. Leong was also an actor, appearing in “Godfather III,” “The Last Emperor” and in soft drink commercials.
Leong is survived by his widow Dean Leon, as well as two sons and a daughter.