I remembered once my mother showed me paintings by impressionists in a magazine and spoke about a kingdom of free expression. In my five-year-old mind, I saw a garden of light through the crack of a door, and I wanted to be there. Every Saturday since I was seven I attended art classes that would prepare me to one day get into a prestigious art college in my hometown, GuangZhou, China. I did end up in a prestigious art college, but it was in New York City, following the immigration of my family in 1992. Cooper Union was my only choice because it was tuition-free at that time and my family was completely broke. Making art was a lifestyle that I never questioned until I graduated. Then I had to decide whether to build a moneymaking career that would get my family out of a car garage rented out as housing, or to go on searching for that kingdom I dreamed about.

I didn’t end up being a painter like I thought I would. I'm more in love with medieval art than impressionism. The “kingdom of free expression” was understood by me to be a place where solid artistic skills can be used without restraint to transmit emotions and ideas. Decades have passed, and I realize now that what I need to learn is limitless because you can never master your own life and living is always a process. It seemed that I could always get closer to that Garden, but never to touch its door and see the beautiful light shining from inside. I like the medieval monks’ approach to their work; it is a meditation in the glory of God. And God to me is everything my life and others is teaching me.

In putting art first I was aware of making a sacrifice, and I felt guilty, but this priority has turned out be an anchor in trouble times. The journey to that Garden creates so much more in me than what I have made. It spurs me to travel around the world, absorbing art and culture like a ravenous archaeologist. It pushes me to be curious and observant. Above all, it makes me love this world, all of its beauty so akin to my Garden. The world is my Garden.