(As part of my application to Pro Arts, Oakland. Many thanks to my cousin Henry Lien for his literary prowess and ideas.)
This body of work is entitled “Cinderflora.” The work is a series of mixed media sculptures incorporating hand‐painted cinder blocks, bricks, paper flowers, reeds, stems, and other forms of flora. Accompanying the sculptural pieces, is a triptych of a deconstructed traditional landscape– fragmented and broken as a backdrop to the immigrant experience.
This series gives voice to the buried histories of women of color and their contributions to American history. Using traditional philosophies of wabi‐sabi, ikebana, and kintsugi, these pieces show an appreciation for decline, the rhythm of growth and decay, and the use of cracks and imperfections as sources for newfound strength. Using figurative imagery, elements of floral arrangement, and the traditional “women’s craft” of paper flowers, it collides organic, natural forms with industrial building materials to explore the oft‐ overlooked meanings in conventional objects.
The central motif of flora in an urban environment serves as a metaphor for the untold efforts of women of color in history. Instead of equating flowers to women in any of the historically cliché, retrograde ways, the work deconstructs our view of them and highlights their ability to harness patience and resilience to pierce through seemingly impenetrable obstacles. Similarly, industrial materials are used to emphasize the strength of composite materials, but through decomposition and breaking down in uniquely different or unexpected ways, becoming nourishment as a means for growth.
To strike a delicate balance between two assumed binaries; harsh, industrial building materials are paired with natural, delicate ones to question our assumptions around seemingly opposing concepts such as fragile/strong, delicate/harsh, beauty/imperfection, and growth/decay. Each piece tells a different story of nature waiting for man‐made obstacles to crumble, seeking fissures and cracks as a point of entry to find its path into the light.
The title of the series itself attempts to rehabilitate a reviled cliche of a female narrative. The story of Cinderella is perhaps most controversial, because it is a traditional fairytale of finding salvation in a prince’s arms. It elicits sneers from progressives as readily as floral craftwork does, and yet‐ Cinderella’s story can also be read as a tale of hard work, patience, resourcefulness, and taking advantage of opportunities as it presents itself. The alternative reading of Cinderella’s story harmonizes with the alternative reading of paper flowers; which, in turn, suggests an alternate recounting of women’s stories. The title of the series intentionally echoes this rehabilitation to question politically unpopular or outdated motifs, while the work takes back cultural appropriations, examines rooted biases and buried traditional values‐‐reinvigorating them and bringing them to light.
Personally, the Cinderflora series reflects my need to express gratitude for the strength and efforts of women who came before me, whose own stories were buried to give me a voice. In unearthing even the most recent, unspoken histories within my own ancestral past, I am struck by the resilience and fortitude of the women in my family. Each overlooked and broken in uniquely different ways, but in breaking down, demonstrated resourcefulness and vitality despite having lived through unrelenting obstacles in harsh surroundings.
This series represents my need to craft my own narrative through a composite stories of others. It examines who I am as a woman of color as a part of a larger, historically under‐ represented community within American history.
–San Francisco, October 2015
September 15th, 2015
I’ve gotten a bit too busy to write, but I do wish I could make more time for it. Writing helps clarify my thoughts: the act of writing forces me to focus and structure my thoughts in a way that is both challenging and necessary. Hats off to all my writer friends; shit’s not easy.
Last month, I received a letter from a highly respected Art organization in Oakland, congratulating me for being nominated by someone from SFMOMA, Jewish Contemporary Museum, Yerba Buena, or Oakland Art Museum as one of the artists selected to apply for a solo show next year.
As an artist, having a solo show is a huge milestone, but even being nominated by such esteemed organizations was a huge honor in itself. Given that I had started exploring new media, playing with textures, and thinking of new ways to incorporate my ideas, I wanted to produce work that reflected this.
What resulted was my first real foray into the sculptural– titled, Cinderflora, a series of mixed media work exploring an appreciation for decline, the rhythm of growth and decay, and the use of cracks and imperfections as sources for newfound strength. Using traditional philosophies of wabi‐sabi, ikebana, and kintsugi, it collides organic, natural forms with industrial building materials (such as cinder blocks and bricks) to explore the oft‐overlooked meanings in conventional objects. Here is an excerpt from my write-up for the show (many thanks to Henry Lien, my amazingly talented cousin, who is an accomplished artist and writer–for his help):
Establishing a balance between two assumed binaries; harsh, industrial building materials are met with natural, delicate, hand-made forms to question our assumptions around seemingly opposing concepts such as fragile/strong, delicate/harsh, beauty/imperfection,and growth/decay. Each piece tells a different story of nature waiting for man‐made obstacles to crumble, seeking fissures and cracks as a point of entry to find its path into the light.
The title of the series itself attempts to rehabilitate a reviled cliche of a female narrative. The story of Cinderella is perhaps most controversial, because it is a traditional fairytale of finding salvation in a prince’s arms. It elicits sneers from progressives as readily as floral craftwork does, and yet‐ Cinderella’s story can also be read as a tale of hard work, patience, resourcefulness, and taking advantage of opportunities as it presents itself. The alternative reading of Cinderella’s story harmonizes with the alternative reading of paper flowers; which, in turn, suggests an alternate recounting of women’s stories and contributions throughout American history.
It’s a weird feeling; to make the jump into the third dimension, but I’m very proud of this new body of work, and I feel good about my application. Now that it’s submitted, I will have to knock down my expectations a few notches. But either way, I am excited about my new body of work, and intend on furthering this series because it represents so much of who I am. Thank you to Carlos Lopez for his amazing photographs of my pieces, and for his continued patience with me while I work an inordinate amount of hours in the studio. Fingers crossed, and wish me luck- I’ll need it!
I’m a “nice girl.” I know this about myself. I’ve often told that I may be too nice…perhaps too trusting. “Nice guys finish last” is the old trope that men, in particular, like to point out when they don’t get what they want. I have opinions on this (like I do with most things), but I won’t get into all that. My point is that I am well-aware of all the problems with being a “nice” person.
“…but you’re so nice.”
I’ve struggled with this characteristic of being a nice girl: On one hand, it has given me immeasurable opportunities to connect with people. On the other, it perhaps reflects some of my inherent need to be accepted, to be liked, and to avoid confrontation. I’ve also been screwed over more times than perhaps I choose to count. The latter doesn’t bode well with me, especially considering the inevitability of stepping on a few toes and hurting feelings in the game of Art. That can be a dissertation in itself: whether or not you can establish a career in Art without competition. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible at the current state of things- blame Capitalism, blame poor taste in Art, blame Canada, blame it all—but I try my best so I can keep going.
As you may know, I’ve recently hit few big milestones in my career in the past few months: landing two great positions with a leading art supplier, Savoir Faire, as a demo artist and a marketing contractor– and being selected to join Pacific Felt Factory as one of the first artists in a brand new, creative think-tank/community minded artist space in a highly competitive, hostile space/housing market. These are significant achievements for me, mainly because they contribute to three important elements in building my long-term art career:
- Financial stability
- A like-minded community of great artists
- An affordable space to do it in
Oh yeah, and I’m also still teaching the kids. As I said in a previous post, Art is a game of survival, and I’m here to play the long game. In this game, there are no defined rules, no prescribed milestones. You just have to make your own and celebrate them as you see fit. So friends, let’s party!
It Takes a Village
That said, I am enormously proud of these accomplishments because I know I did my part in getting them, but my pats on the back are limited, because, if I am truly honest with myself, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it on my own merit as an artist. Sure, some of my early success as an artist must have played a factor. But if I’m honest, every one of these opportunities trace back to my one characteristic that has also given me pause: being a nice person. The truth is that I have so, so many people to thank in every little success I have– whether it’s a live painting gig, a commission, a salon I host, a show I’m in, or even just a meal I enjoy (Thank you, Carlos. ;)) Although it seems a bit silly to feel so much gratitude for something so insignificant to others, I feel it all the same so I’d like to acknowledge them… because when other artists ask me how I get these opportunities, I can help them connect the dots and hopefully convince them that– despite the risks, nice people win.
On Getting the Studio
I originally wrote about 6 paragraphs about this, but realized it was really TL;DR (too long, didn’t read), so here’s the synopsis: If you buy me a drink I’ll divulge all the details and more. Here’s how it happened:
December 2013: Met Sandra Yagi by chance, after I spoke on “Choice” Panel, a show juried by Catharine Clark of Catharine Clark Gallery, hosted by Arc Gallery.
April 2014: I featured Sandy at “Escapism” at Art Song Salon – the salon Jessica Wan and I host quarterly. I visited Sandy at her studio afterwards, and we chatted about studio prices being exorbitant. A few days later, she asked me if I’d be interested in sharing her studio. I said HELL YES.
June 2014 (?): Not sure exactly when, but I moved into Sandy’s studio on 10th and Mission.
December 2014: Sandy tells me Michael Yochum (from Arc Gallery) has been working with some folks to a huge project in the Mission aimed to provide long-term, affordable studios for SF Artists and a creative space for gallery talks, lectures, workshops, and events for the community. They wanted a diverse group of well-established, gallery-represented artists who were in need of studio space. Sandy jumped on it, so did I.
March 2015: Found out that not only did Sandy get a studio, I qualified for my own space at Pacific Felt Factory as well. I suspect Michael Yochum and Priscilla Otani gunned for me to get the space, along with Sandy, who has worked and been friends with Michael and Priscilla for years.
On Getting the Job
This one was much more straightforward: I met Rick Kitagawa and Eve Skylar while taking a course at City College back in 2010, I think, and we’ve stayed in touch. Rick and Eve are amongst my favorite people, and their pure grit, humility, passion, and hustle has inspired my artistic career. So when Rick referred me to Savoir Faire as a potential demo artist, I was honored. After interviewing with Savoir Faire, I realized I also had a mutual friend to the founders of the company, Deb Cook Shapiro, a fabulous painter in my studio building. I had also been helping Deb with some of her tech stuff, which led her to give me a glowing recommendation to Maureen and Pierre at Savoir Faire, who asked me in for a few interviews and promptly offered me a job as their marketing manager.
Surrounding Myself with Good People
If that was too much for you to read: Here’s an even shorter version. I acknowledge that I’m a crazy lucky person, so I will never take full credit for my successes. BUT– if I were to take credit, it would be for being able to surround myself with great people who, despite having had their fair share of difficulties, choose to be kind and supportive. When I think about the crazy trajectory that I have taken in the past three years since leaving Google, I can only be grateful to those who have believed in me and helped me get to this position. The rest is up to me, and it will be a long game, but I know one thing: I’ll do my best to succeed, and help others get there too.
As I start the year and I deliver my last commission of 2014, I am humbled by gratitude. Art is sometimes undefinable; every artist I meet struggles to define it, and his or her place in it. I am no exception, only, I know that for me, art is inspired by the people around me, and I have surrounded myself with some pretty inspirational people.
This new commission came from a good friend of many years, who celebrated the birth of his first son this year, and came to me with an idea with a gift for his wife. As a requisite to new Dad-dom, Phil took up photography, and took a beautiful, quiet, and sensitive photo of Laura and their son, Asher, by the window of their home. A simple photo with little detail, I loved the intimacy of the photo, and was touched by the the adoration and love from both the viewer and the subject.
Phil shared this photo with me, asked me if I would be interested in painting something as a gift to his wife this year. I said yes. Normally, this type of photo wouldn’t give enough information for a reference, but I was happy to take on the challenge.
As I mentioned before, my decision process for commissions boils down to a few things, one of them being a narrative. So much of how I feel about art comes from the story, and this one was no exception. Laura happens to be a bad ass lead singer of the band, “LoveFool” and has an incredibly beautiful singing voice. Phil sent me off to brainstorm with this quote of his: “Hurry home to me darling, I miss your voice,” a sentiment I wanted to incorporate into the piece.
What resulted was a subtle nod to intervals and cadences to her music in a monochromatic neutral palette to reinforce the quiet mood, a visual interpretation of an intimate lullaby shared by all the members of their small, loving family. And Phil, you win husband of the year, for commissioning such a great piece. It was definitely made with love (and a healthy dose of frustration).
**Special thanks to John Wentz, for giving me informal critiques throughout the process. Can’t wait to get one of your pieces in my collection!
And to all my friends investing in my art career: Thank you SO, so very much. Please know that your investment in me isn’t taken lightly, I really can’t even tell you how much I appreciate it. Also know that the money I earn from art goes right back into the art pie, because it’s one that could use some growing!
For the most part, I enjoy doing commissions. I get approached from time to time to do them (mostly by friends and family), and I find myself having to be fairly choosy when it comes to which ones I want to take. To me, my decisions come down to three criteria: the story, technical challenge, and cost in terms of time and materials.
When the Shelton Family asked me to do this commission back in August, I was first struck by their story. The piece comes from a memory of when they were engaged at Montara State Beach, a beautiful moment situated right before a scary diagnosis that was foreshadowed by a sudden hospital stay in November.
As Jessica recounted her memory of her walk with Kevin down the beach at sunset, she shared this with me (published here with their consent):
He told me to look out over the ocean. He still had pain in his side from the November ER stay, so in order to get down on one knee I could feel his hands progress down my back, then my thigh, then my knee as he supported himself to get down to the sand.
I said Yes immediately and joined him on the sand and we sat and watched the ocean until it was almost dark. It was nice because no-one knew but us. He hadn’t told his parents, and hadn’t asked mine, so it was just ours.
And it was so quiet. Very insulated. And we thought that the medical stuff was behind us. So it was very much time out of mind, if that makes sense.
Very shortly after their engagement, Kevin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread, making it Stage 4. He’s now been through 8 rounds of chemo and surgery and, I’m happy to report, the outlook is good. However, they didn’t know that a year ago. Instead of wedding planning, they had the turbulence of a year flying back and forth across the country to receive treatment, finding laughter and joy wherever, and as often, they could. They embarked on a journey supporting each other through what would be both the scariest times, and some of the happiest times (they got married in April 🙂 in their lives.
I sobbed when I heard their story (yeah, I cry a lot – so what), but I realized what Jessica wanted in the painting, was for it to be an eternalized memory of that fleeting, magical moment… a time without worry, and a moment that was only theirs. Jessica described the scene as having an ethereal pinkish glow… which I assured her was probably something she made up– but I struggled to incorporate it successfully into the painting.
I also struggled with depicting their profoundly moving emotions, but I wanted to encapsulate what Jessica had told me when describing that afternoon on the beach:
…Similar to that space between sleep and waking, where you’re totally relaxed and smiling at something whimsical in your dream that you, now that you think of it … you can’t quite remember … before you wake up and remember the scary truth of what’s going on.
… a break from the scariness and uncertainty that we thought at the time we’d just overcome, coupled with celebrating our whole life together, just around the bend.
As the scarecrow said, though: I think it’s going to get darker before it gets lighter.
We didn’t know that, then. And it got a whole helluva lot darker.
Now that we’ve fought through everything this past year, I guess what this painting – or that place – represents to me is a respite. A break from being scared. A place where things might be okay – but, more than that, a place where the problems don’t even exist so you don’t have to focus on just not thinking about it. It’s a world apart.
It’s my red dress from ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ my Jodie Foster moment at the end of ‘Contact. ‘
Thank you, Jessica and Kevin, for letting me be a part of such a special moment in your lives. Thank you, also for referencing “Requiem for a Dream,” which might actually be one of my favorite movies of all time. And Kevin, I sometimes have a hard time expressing in words how happy I am for you both right now, so the best I can do is give my love and care into creating this piece for you. I hope you take care of each other for ever and ever. I’ll be here, too.
Music is very often a part of the highest and the lowest points of my day. Lyrics give me words when I don’t have my own, and music expresses emotions I sometimes don’t know I have. I suspect music inspires the same in others, which is why so many people find solace in the same songs, sharing the need to reinterpret and pay homage to songs of the past.
In my new series, I revisited songs that have been interpreted by various artists, songs I have discovered/rediscovered at various points in my life. Because so much of what I paint is representational, I wanted to challenge myself to simply paint in the abstract- completely devoid of symbolism. I wanted to test my ability to convey a certain sense of feeling in each, that can’t be expressed in lyrics or words–even by some of the greatest musicians in history. I also wanted to share the meaning they’ve created in their reinterpretations of the same song, and be a part of the tradition through the process of creation. These paintings are my dedication to my times of love, loss, obsession, and heartbreak. I hope it resonates with you.
This series was recently shown at the Asian American Women Artist Association’s show, “A PLACE OF HER OWN” at the SEED Gallery at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio, San Francisco from Thursday, June 12 to Friday, July 25th, 2014. Thank you to all who made it to the show, I am forever grateful for your support.
Title: I Wish You Love
Materials: Oil, Graphite Powder, Watercolor and Clear Glitter on Canvas
Description: My visual interpretation of Rachael Yamagata’s rendition of, “I Wish You Love,” is a wide chasm of longing, touched with the earnestness of hope, leading to a glimmering horizon. This particular song has significance to me, as it carried me through some of my deepest heartaches. There are layers of warmth beneath the ice, and the only way to get to it is through the path toward the cracked ice above. To me, it is a song of heartbreak, loss, but overwhelming and encompassing love.
Play: “I Wish You Love,” Rachael Yamagata
Title: Lilac Wine
Materials: Oil, Graphite Powder, Watercolor and Enamel on Canvas
Description: Based on Jeff Buckley’s interpretation of “Lilac Wine,” I imagined the dynamic push and pull of syrupy wine legs against the shadows of a lonely, dark place. This piece represents an obsessive, clingy love—drowned in the blissful oblivion of intoxication.
Play: “Lilac Wine,” by Jeff Buckley
Materials: Oil, Watercolor, Graphite Powder
Description: “Landslide,” by Smashing Pumpkins is another remake of a classic song by Fleetwood Mac, and my interpretation of it represents a departure from what I’ve been known to create in the past. It’s a personal piece and homage to my familiar past: a long-standing love lost, an embracing of change, and a hope to rebuild.
Play: “Landslide,” by Smashing Pumpkins