now that when he came to America he was already mostly empty, vacant (canvas-wise no more than primed).
Soon after his arrival he joined an art class concerned only with color. This was in the East. Brooklyn, New York. A few doors down from where Lee Krasner had lived.
The teacher of the class was a stern and certain woman (the former and latter often being quick companions). But a good woman also. She told Mister Chu something one day and then asked him something else:
There are more than 16 million colors they say, how many ideas do you have?
And Mister Chu, in a voice that was an even quieter instrument then than it is now, answered to the effect that the mind had countless ideas, thoughts without number.
No, she said. You have a mind that’s in a tumble but it has only a few ideas, about a girl or maybe a boy even, your next meal, the money in your pocket. Occasionally when captured your attention may turn for a moment to the brilliance of Cezanne or the necessity of your bus timetable, but each thought, each of these passing ideas, has endless shades. It is always the color that sings the song.
The company Pantone has many color sets and, somewhat famously, the teacher would give out a small card with eight swatches on it to each graduating student at the end of her course (although there were no exams as such). It was said that she matched her gift to the nature and outlook of each student.
To Mister Chu she gave eight colors of the red and orange and pink and coral dispositions. She said to him: You are the inbetween of these.
And privately -for he has never spoken of this- he agrees. In the bottom left corner he is an orange, a wrong sun, an Asia unsure of itself who has spent too long on the tanning bed. In the top right he is as flesh-toned as can be (in the American understanding of that). Vivid, some strange salmon. The Carolinas at play.
He has kept this card and, as if a poetic form of his own invention, he will occasionally write eight words, one in each square, sometimes in sequence, sometimes nonsensical to anyone but him. And everywhere he has traveled this card of small colors comes with him. Often it sits between the pages of a book or in his leather satchel, put away, but then, in times when Mister Chu becomes too certain or comfortable about who he is, he will take it out and write down a new memorandum to himself. A few of his tumbling ideas.
Some things given to us or found stay close by for always.