Being a parent is the most important work I’ve ever done. And as a painter and gallery owner, healing continues to be my focus
Spring, 2005. I remember the day clearly. My period was late, so I asked my husband, Ken T. Yang, A91, A21P, to pick up some home kits. There we were in the bathroom, and the test was positive. Twice.
I had taken a couple of years off from the family practice where Ken and I worked in the small town of Clinton, North Carolina, to spend more time with our three children. With Kayla, our youngest, starting daycare, and Katey, A21, and Casey in elementary school, my head had been filled with thoughts of “How can I get back to work?”
I chose to keep my pregnancy and I did not return to practicing medicine.
That was difficult in some ways—I really missed being a physician—but I began to focus on my art again. I would paint late at night or when Kenzy—our happy surprise, whose name is a nod to Ken—was at daycare. The moments that I rest are also the moments when I'm making art; they are the same for me, rest and art.
I’ve always loved art and science, and I wanted to be a doctor since fifth grade. My family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan when I was 4. I grew up in Brookline, Mass. We didn’t have the financial means to pay for college. I applied to schools with great art and pre-med programs. Tufts gave me the largest financial aid package.
I was a double major in art history and chemistry. I always doodled in class. Ken and I met in an Asian American literature class. One day, he sat next to me, watched me doodling a person’s profile in my notebook. Next to the drawing he wrote: “Who is this? What an amazing artist you are.” All I could think was, "How does this guy know that that's me to the core?" He wrote the words in my notebook asking me to his fraternity formal. Seven months and 7 days after our first date he proposed. We were married at Tufts’ Goddard Chapel in 1993 and he watched me doodle our way through New York Medical College.
In between all the demands of having four children, I began to work with multiple mediums— graphite, inks, pastels, acrylics, dried flowers, paper, and more. In 2008, the Sampson Arts Council asked me to donate a painting for a silent auction. It sold for an amount far beyond my imagination. It was thrilling. I thought, if I can sell this one, what else could I sell?
I earned my master's in art education through the University of Florida in 2014. In one class, I learned to use a sketchbook as a creative tool for making art. One of the prompts was, "What do you envision?" I walked around Clinton and took pictures of spaces and walls that were empty. I sketched my vision of a gallery—a space where I could engage with people in my community, because that's what I missed about medicine. I missed the interaction with people. I missed helping my patients heal.
By chance, in 2019, I saw a for-sale sign in a storefront on Vance Street—in the historic preservation district—tucked in between Gracie’s Grill and The Source Alterations shop. Our three oldest were grown and Kenzy was in high school. We took out a construction loan and rebuilt our dream space from the ground up, downsizing from our previous home and moving into the apartment over the gallery.
Ho Yang Fine Art opened on Earth Day, April 22, 2022, with my first show, “Spring.” Ken helped curate my second show, “Fall.” My third show opened Feb. 7; Kenzy helped curate it and named it “Season of Love.”
Art matters because it’s a way of communicating. Each painting holds stories not only about the art and its artist, but also stories imagined by its viewers. My art is also my way of finding joy. To me, joy is not the same as happiness, which I think of as “Happy birthday” or confetti. Joy is deeper than happiness, and you really have to look for it. For me, joy is looking at what's going to give me balance in between life’s difficult moments.
Kenzy's middle name is Joy. She's my reminder that it's not just the art part that is my joy, it's how I look at life in terms of the choices I make in good times or bad times. Being a physician was the best job I ever had. Being a parent is the most important work I have ever known. Choosing Kenzy was never a decision in question. By making and sharing art, my hope is to connect experiences with people-kind during our short time on Earth. My work is still about healing.
—As told to Jamie Saxon