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Borough artist has a global point of view

Artist Marlene Tseng Yu at her Long Island Studio with “Pink Marble #2,” a recent acrylic painting.
Photo by Merle Exit
By Merle Exit

Marlene Tseng Yu’s distinctive paintings are well-known throughout the world. Born 1937 in Taiwan, she came to the United States in 1963, receiving a Master in Fine Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1967 and teaching art at Denver University in Colorado from 1967 to 1968 before heading to Queens.

“My husband, James, and I moved to Jackson Heights in 1968,” Marlene said. “Except for a couple of years in New Jersey, I had kept a studio in SoHo until 2008 when we moved to Long Island City, where the third floor became my studio, with its high ceiling and eight skylights.” It was there that she began a series of large-scale paintings.

“In Taiwan, I began painting by copying famous traditional-style Chinese paintings. The subject matter included landscapes, animals, birds, flowers and figurines.,” she saud. “At the University of Colorado, where I studied under Eugene Matthews, I began the transition to lyrical abstract expressionistic paintings of nature.”

The themes in her paintings deal with various aspects of natural phenomenon, focusing on nature’s movements, colors and forms. “For larger paintings, I would first do a small compositional sketch before doing any paintings over eight feet.” Acrylic paints are Tseng Yu’s preferred media, due to their being water soluble and able to maintain their colors “better than oil and watercolors.”

In addition to having shown her work in museums and galleries ranging from the National Art Museum of China to the ACA Galleries in Chelsea, Tseng Yu has frequently exhibited her paintings at cultural institutions across Queens. The Queensborough Community College Art Gallery and the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College have both presented shows devoted to her work. Over 600 of her paintings are in private collections in the New York area.

An interest in the relationship between mankind and nature is a constant thread in her work. In 2014, Tseng Yu was one of the featured artists in the Queens Museum exhibit “Raising the Temperature: Art in Environmental Reactions.” The show, curated by Luchia Meihu Lee, was a collaboration with the Rainforest Art Foundation, an organization founded by Tseng Yu “to increase appreciation of nature through art.”

She said glacial melting is her favorite topic to paint, and that she didn’t realize when she began depicting the subject many years ago how it would become such a global issue today. “Water is a resource we don’t often think about on a daily basis in a country like America where many of us live in homes with endless sources of water with the turn of a knob,” she said.

There is also an entire museum, the Marlene Yu Museum in Shreveport, La., devoted to the artist and her vision. Her daughter, Stephanie Lusk, is director of both the museum and the Rainforest Art Foundation.

If you’d like a closer look at Marlene Tseng Yu’s unique work, she has a studio in Long Island City where you can find limited edition prints and posters, as well as works on paper and canvas. To visit the studio, call her at (917) 681-3308, or James at (917) 682-3630.

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