Studio Session with Wei Tai

Marilyn HawkesFebruary 25, 2020
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Photos by Angelina Aragon
Photos by Angelina Aragon

Wei Tai’s colorful paintings cover almost every inch of visible wall space in his North Phoenix home. Tai, who hails from a rural village south of Shanghai, China, learned to paint at age 5, taught by his father, an accomplished artist silenced during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Tai’s early paintings focused primarily on Eastern subject matter, but after arriving in Arizona in 1991, he became fascinated with Western subjects, from cowboys to horses to American Indians.

To get a better understanding of his milieu, Tai visited tribal land, ranches and rodeos. “The Southwest is very colorful, both the landscape and the people,” he says. Studying the subjects in person helped Tai formulate more accurate depictions and also improved his technique.

At his home studio, Tai works in oil, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal and Chinese brush painting, using a variety of surfaces, including canvas, silk, copper and rice paper. His themes and techniques vary greatly. “I paint Eastern subjects with Western technique, and sometimes I paint Western subjects with Eastern technique,” he says. “I go back and forth.”

Before settling in Arizona, the multitalented Tai graduated from the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art in 1964, and also had a successful career as a fashion designer, meeting fashion legends Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Pierre Cardin. The profession proved to be quite expensive, so Tai returned to painting. “To be an artist, you only need canvas and brushes. If you don’t sell the painting, it’s just one canvas.”

Tai is a featured artist at the Arizona Fine Art Expo in Scottsdale. The show runs through March 22. Visit to learn more.

1 Brushes

Tai uses many different sizes of brushes for large and small paintings. Brushes must be stored upside down to keep the point intact.

2 Chinese Ink

When creating traditional Chinese paintings, Tai dips his brush in dark, ready-made ink and then mixes it with water to create the right value (the lightness or darkness of a color or hue) for painting.

3 Clay Horse

To see a horse’s muscles and movement from different angles, Tai relies on a clay model.

4 Chinese Rice Paper

If you make an error on permeable rice paper, you can’t fix it and must discard it. Tai sometimes paints all day and perfects only one or two pieces.

5 Stone

The weight holds the paper down to keep it from moving while Tai paints.