Born in Los Angeles, Joanna Kao spent her early years in Southern California and Michigan. In 1975 she earned an MFA in Painting from Boston University, where she studied with Philip Guston. Her experience of growing up as the child of immigrants from China laid the foundation for a passion for political art. Her work revolves around themes of her Asian legacy, the difficult experiences of other people’s lives, the will to resist injustice, and simply the desire to make something beautiful, compelling, and thought-provoking.

    Delight in the use of materials and media drives development of her artistic expression. Kao’s recent use of painting and collage in unconventional ways has led to the creation of translucent images. These allow for backlighting of a picture as well as the usual frontal illumination to suggest the passage of time in a single scene. For display, she then developed new methods of mounting and hanging this work.

Kao’s art has been shown widely. Hankuk Art Museum in South Korea, the Jingdezhen Ceramic Arts Institute, and the Zhejiang Art Academy in Hangzhou, China, hosted solo exhibitions, as have the Boston and Newton Public Libraries, closer to home. In 2014 her work was included by juror Weston Teruya in Feature, a select group show at the Berkeley Art Center, with Kenneth Baker writing a review in the San Francisco Chronicle. Her artwork in Progress of the World’s Women, Beijing +5 at the United Nations in 2000 was later included in the website for the International Museum of Women, where it drew commentary from Concerned Women of America. Other venues include UMass Boston, the DeCordova Museum, Boston Center for the Arts, the Attleboro Arts Museum, Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia, and the Piano Craft Gallery in Boston.

For thirty-one years, she taught art at the Winsor School, retiring some ten years ago. The Piano Craft Gallery show is a retrospective look at her artistic career and includes work from the past twenty-seven years. At present Kao divides her time between Boston and Berkeley.