Archives for category: My art

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Two pieces from my show Rebirth sold: portraits of two of the youngest subjects, Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. In addition, a commissioned painting of mine is on the site of Lumicor, an architectural panel company. (See below) And finally, I’ve been in talks about two group shows next month.

_blog-lumicor-1  _blog-lumicor-2
Above left: the original piece. Above right: the painting in the print catalog

So I’m late in posting this great interview I had with Xavier Lopez, Jr., who writes an arts and culture blog for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Please check it out here.

The interview with Laura Castellanos that we mention in the last part can be found here.

 

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wp_20160905_002Above: a chalk portrait of Sandra Bland

Tonight I have my fifth solo show, this time at Vermillion, a gallery voted #1 in Seattle in a recent Seattle Weekly poll. I wanted to honor the police murder victims of Black Lives Matter, so I decided to return to figurative portraiture, a departure from the largely abstract work of the past decade.

The name of the show is “Rebirth.” To counterbalance the hatred and racial violence in today’s world, I decided to create a meditative, healing space to honor the Black victims of police murders. Using classroom chalk, I drew portraits of 14 of them from a composite of photos sourced online. They are: Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Meagan Hockaday, Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Oscar Grant, Nizah Morris, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Yvette Smith. I also included Trayvon Martin because his murder created Black Lives Matter. In the back of the gallery, I posted these individuals’ stories, along with information on Black liberation organizations, which included Black Lives MatterEnding the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle, and Black Community Impact Alliance, as a call to action.

Drawing someone in chalk is a delicate and tender process. You observe every minute contour of their face. You understand that this person was vital, multifaceted, funny—so much more than a name in the news. This person left behind a void that is still felt among their loved ones and their communities. You realize, in drawing them, that you deeply care. And it becomes evident that remembrance, particularly in a portrait, is a kind of rebirth.

What brought me to tears was working on the eyes of 7-year-old Aiyana, the youngest police victim in the group. I thought, “We failed you.” She and the countless people gunned down by police officers should be here today. We need to do better. We need to address police accountability, open-carry laws, overpolicing in Black communities, and all the racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia attendant in American society.

An important element in many Black religious communities, water is collected in a bowl at the end of the gallery as a symbol of purification and rebirth. In acting as an inherent threat to the chalk drawings, it carries a reminder of the fragility of life and memory.

I want to thank Davida Ingram, Blu the Baqi, Sooja Kelsey, Eva Abrams, Inye Wokoma, and Erwin Thomas for all their insights and guidance on this project.

Vermillion is donating 10% of its profits to Black Lives Matter; I’m donating all my profits to Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle.

Show info:
Rebirth, a show honoring Black Lives Matter
Vermillion
1508 11th Ave, Seattle, WA
Opens Sept. 8, 6 to 9PM
Closes Oct. 8

 

YL_Stranger AP mag 2

My piece, Slippage, in The Stranger‘s Art & Performance Spring 2016 magazine (above, right)

Some days you think you’re going to go wrangle with the electricity company over a billing issue, and then something entirely unexpected and magical happens. In my case, I received a text notifying me that my art was in the latest issue of The Stranger, a popular weekly paper in Seattle. I thought, “Well, fuck the double charge on that bill—they can triple-charge me, for all I care. Right now I’m off to get a paper!”

Then I sprinted down to the coffeehouse in the lobby of my office building, grabbed a paper, and retreated to a quiet place to look through it. The artwork in question was in the periodical’s quarterly Art & Performance magazine. The guide provides a comprehensive list of all arts events going on that season; the Visual Arts section alone contained more than 200 exhibitions and shows.

Right there, on page 23, was my piece, Slippage. I felt almost numb with disbelief. There were only five image slots available in that section; three of them promoted museum shows, including that of international art star Kehinde Wiley, and another showed the work of local legend Norman Lundin. Then there’s this unknown artist, Yoona Lee. The one squarely outside the Seattle arts community, the one who toiled in relative obscurity for 16 long years to get the show of her dreams.

That was my painting right there, and the caption made me gasp. “Why you should see it: Because [Yoona] can transform everyday materials into smart meditations on racial politics.” They understood me. They got to the heart of what I was doing.

Slippage itself was created by cutting a slit in the cellophane covering a store-bought stretched canvas and pouring Sumi ink into it. The piece is about the infiltration of the Other’s, or minority’s, perspective into a previously white and sacrosanct canon—a phenomenon as unstoppable as ink across a blank canvas. I last showed it at the 2015 Arts & Social Change Showcase.

My upcoming show at Ghost Gallery will include this work and others. Titled Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America, the show will feature a wide breadth of work: big, visceral abstract paintings, smaller conceptual mixed-media collage, and at least one figurative drawing. It will open May 12, the night of Seattle’s Capitol Hill Art Walk. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by. Details below.

Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America
Ghost Gallery
Opening May 12, 5 to 9PM
On view through June 6
504 E. Denny Way
(corner of E. Denny Way and Summit/Olive, entryway to right of Hillcrest Market)

My website: http://www.rhymeswithrace.com/

Sea Race Conference room
Whew, the projector works! (my self-portrait on screen)

I’d dreaded giving this workshop. I literally lost sleep over it, turning over in my head a central question that I’d tried to resolve through innumerable conversations. The problem was built into the title I’d given the workshop, “Here I Am: The Self-Portrait as Act of Cultural Resistance.” And now I had to hash it out at the 2015 Seattle Race Conference.

My workshop was originally intended for people of color (POC)—both visual artists and writers. In a society where racial minorities are still marginalized, creating a self-portrait is an empowering exercise for POC to assert their autonomy and agency. It’s a way of actively resisting racial typecasting while also rooting out implicit racism in themselves. Sometimes self-judgment, like “My eyes are too small” (something I used to think as an Asian American), emerges during the process, and these indictments often carry internalized racism.

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Quarter Life, a self-portrait I did at 25 

Knowing the conference would be well attended by non-POC, I didn’t want to restrict the workshop to minorities and be accused of being, well, racist. So my big dilemma was figuring out how to position this workshop to non-POC. If whiteness is normative in our culture, then for a white person, creating a self-portrait is not necessarily an act of racial-cultural resistance. So the big question was: how can non-POC create a self-portrait and still gain an empathetic understanding of the racial minority’s positionality? It felt like trying to sell a car to someone and have them think of broccoli at the same time. Most of the non-POC I asked usually didn’t think about race at all.

So I asked the question to a diverse assortment of people I knew, from data analysts to artists to academics to executives. Their answers ranged from “Does this workshop have to include white people?” to “Have the white folks draw themselves as racial minorities.” The latter idea made me flinch, since it could easily lapse into stereotyping. I wanted this workshop to be a validating experience for POC, not another opportunity for hurt feelings and rage.

After weighing out the feedback, I finally settled on asking the non-POC to do self-portraits and hoped that the small-group discussion afterward could help them better understand the minority experience.

My next concern was: Is anyone going to be interested in my workshop anyhow? There were so many fascinating-sounding sessions, including ones run by representatives of the ACLU, Washington Bar Association, and Seattle Office for Civil Rights, going on at the same time as mine.

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An excerpt of the 2015 Seattle Race Conference guide (my session bracketed)

To my relief, 16 people showed up. They were visual artists and writers, varying in age and race but skewing POC and female. I shared some of my art and writing, including an excerpt of my piece at the Wing Luke Museum, talked about the politics of self-portraiture and the social/activistic aspects of art making, and described the parameters of the project. I asked the writers to produce a paragraph or several about their physical appearance, which is the manifestation of ethno-racial features and perceived difference. I recommended the artists stick to a realistic style but not worry about using a mirror, to avoid getting hung up on technicalities.

Then I asked the workshop participants how they would address the self-portrait challenge for non-POC. One mixed-race woman raised her hand and suggested that whites can experience oppression, similar to what POC feel, when they feel insecurity at their own features. It was an excellent point: oppression can come from oneself—we do it all the time.

Using the paper, pens and pencils I’d brought, the workshop participants got to work. They approached their self-portraits with courage and honesty; there was often pain and questioning on the page. One white woman drew her body as an outline and her head with only eyes, nose, and hair; in a caption, she berated her blankness and yearned for color. A young black man tried drawing himself several times; each time, a male relative’s face unexpectedly emerged. The mixed-race woman who had responded to my question earlier almost wept while drawing her self-portrait. On the paper, her dark eyes stared piercingly out but inward, as most self-portrait eyes do. She later told me the workshop changed her life.

When I divided the class into small groups afterward to talk about their self-portraits, the discussions were rich and deep, even spilling into the lunch hour. As I visited with the groups, I found it challenging to adroitly respond to some of the issues that came up. What to say to the young white woman who drew herself in long sleeves and wrote that she was seen by her high school as a threat to the community (due to self-harm) but “still doesn’t know oppression”? Or to the half-Hispanic woman who called herself “an invalid” because she doesn’t fit into either culture and it makes her feel sick and useless.

Or to the white senior citizen who had remained resolutely silent until she finally opened up about escaping her bigoted small town when she realized she was gay.

Many writers tried their hand at sketching. A biracial woman who had never drawn before brightly observed that she could pass as either Mexican or white. She drew her eyes looking down in a shocked but amused manner, the whites showing above the dark pupils, and a half-smile on her thin face.

I was inspired and moved by everyone’s braveness at confronting their issues and speaking frankly about them with strangers. A few participants told me afterward that they’d had a profound experience. I ended up making two friends: a talented young poet, who has since expanded her self-portrait into a long-term creative project, and a woman from the social justice organization Coming to the Table. The latter led an afternoon workshop that used art interpretation to reveal implicit bias, which fit the conference theme: Perceptions Kill! The Impacts of Implicit Racial Bias.

The conference itself was sold out, and the majority of the attendees were non-POC, which shows that Seattle is progressing, even if it has a long way to go. I met likeminded folks who offered me opportunities to lead workshops at University of Washington, North Seattle College, and Western Washington University. I was also invited to show my art at a gallery in Kingston, WA.

Sea Race Conference friends
New friends at 2015 Seattle Race Conference (me in center)

Talking about race in America is arduous, but it’s amazing how engaged people can become once they get started. I was struck by how coworkers at my office, even between meetings, spoke about it with earnestness and alacrity. Race is an issue that is alive and vital, percolating below the surface, and when siphoned out carefully—in moderated small-group discussions, even in large-scale events like this conference—it can become a potent and transformative force. So let’s keep talking. Let’s keep meeting. Let’s keep looking into ourselves, for our faults, our beauty, our future potential. Because that is where social change begins.

This post is dedicated to freedom fighter Grace Lee Boggs.

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My tribute to Grace Lee Boggs on the chalkboard at my workplace

Mode Irrealis
Irrealis Mode, acrylic on 30″ x 40″ canvas, 2006

The Strata series consists of horizontal layers and pentimenti (visible traces of the earlier stages of the painting), which are used to represent a priori truths, or what lies beneath experiential knowledge. This series explores consciousness, memory, and the overlapping texts of fear and desire.

With the Strata paintings, I departed from my previous monochrome work, avoiding dominant forms and using color to elicit emotion. Although color field painting is nothing new, it was certainly an unfamiliar practice for me, though a liberating one.

Irrealis Mode (above) was the first in the series. I had just come back from spending time in the Bay Area, and the clarion California light profoundly influenced me. The painting has an oneiric, or dream-like, quality like something yearned for or remembered. The ineffable seems to lurk between the layers, so the title refers to a grammatical mode used to describe the unreal.

Laguna
Laguna, acrylic on 30″ x 48″ canvas, 2007

The painting above took almost three years to finish. I wanted to create a piece that had both fearsome and beguiling elements. The latter appear as fields of aqua (an unusually complex color in this case, carrying a blush of pink) and sea green. By contrast, electric patches of cadmium orange and ultramarine vibrate and shimmer as you get close. An underlying dark structure emerges–part of the earlier painting–representing the limits of mortality, an underworld, or an unresolved trauma.

Sea Change
Sea Change, acrylic on 30″ x 48″ canvas, 2006

Unlike Laguna, this piece took less than an hour to complete and is very minimal. It uses only three colors, and nearly a third of the painting is raw canvas. By sheer luck, a few dribbles of paint appeared in just the right places, so I let them travel down. When creating Sea Change, I was thinking of the color of the sky before a storm–that ominous but captivating shade of yellowish gray–and the uncertain psychological climate around major changes.

Here are a few smaller pieces in the series.

lost_Strata_SM
Untitled, acrylic on 8″ x 12″ canvas, 2010

Small strata
Untitled, acrylic on 5″ x 7″ canvas, 2006

I find that abstraction enables a more mutable vocabulary than figurative art, and is more apt to reveal subconscious processes. Although modern art is often all about the surface, there is a lot more beneath, through more readings than one.

These days I’ve been developing a new body of work around race, but I plan to return to the Strata series. In the meantime, it waits for me like an alluring memory or an unfinished dream.

You can see more of my paintings at: http://rhymeswithrace.com/paintings.html

I recently found a sketchbook I kept in sixth grade and instantly got depressed. It occurred to me that the greatest height of my artistic practice happened when I was eleven years old. I drew all the time, was respected by my peers and family for my work (even though I was relentlessly bullied in school), and was constantly pushing myself in new directions and new mediums.

At the time I was obsessed with horses. I drew entire herds of horses in pencil, pen, magic marker (pictured below), and any other art material I could find.

kid_horses

Nowadays I’ve moved on to other subject matter, but have found some surprising similarities between my art as a sixth grader and my work now.

For example, I had a penchant, even back then, for black and white—and drama. Maybe I was subjected to too many murder-mystery TV programs, thanks to my mom and two older sisters. Here’s a drawing of a “whodunit,” with a corpse splayed out, grim bystanders, and a grieving widow. (I was a macabre child.)

kid_whodunit

But compare the drawing to one that I did a decade and a half later, as a response to the War on Terror.

Atrocities V

Atrocities V, charcoal, 2001

Then there was my weird infatuation with fruit punch. There’s something about the color and flavor that I find so enticing—especially in its most synthetic forms. Here’s my version, using Pentel markers, at age 11.

kid_punch

And below is an allegorical still life I did about 27 years later, called Transelementation. This piece explored the uneasy dynamic between fine art and advertising and features a bottle of Hawaiian Punch. Disquietingly enough, the punch was the exact same color as the ultra-poisonous acrylic paint I was using (quinacridone red, for you paint geeks out there).

61-transelementation-2011

I tend toward abstraction as an artist, but will draw a still life just to maintain my rendering skills. Below, as a sixth grader, I was exploring how realistic I could make a crayon drawing look.

kid_canteloupe

And below I’m doing the same thing, with colored pencil—and with alcohol (which enhances everything)! This is part of a love note to Seattle that I made for the Sketchbook Project in 2010.

wine and drawing

The drawing tool I’ve used most often, simply because it’s easy to transport, is a pen. Below are yet more horses I drew at 11, this time using a pen and ancient bottle of ink I’d found rolling around in a drawer at home.

kid_ink horses

And here is a drawing I did nearly 30 years later, protesting the gentrification that is destroying my beloved neighborhood of Capitol Hill, Seattle.

Love letter to E Olive Way

And here I am as a 13-year-old, at my first “group show,” after a summer art class. I have seven pieces behind me, including a few figure drawings, two horses to my lower left, and a black-and-white drawing to the left of my head that resembles my work now.

kid_Corcoran show

And here’s my current work (with me in front of it), photo courtesy of Jeffrey Hirsch. This is from my show at Zeitgeist in downtown Seattle a few months ago.

JH pic of me

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even after almost three decades (ack)!

You can see more recent artwork of mine at: http://rhymeswithrace.com/

I know you’re tired of it. Race. Race in America. It’s a topic ripe enough to burst, and it dominates the headlines: racial terrorism, police brutality, Obama using the “N” word. I’m sick of it too, but it’s what people of color, like me, live and breathe every day. We talk, cry, and yell it; it’s the key in which we sing.

Lately, I have been developing a body of work that deals with the fraught and beleaguered issue of race in America. These paintings are a continuation of my recent show at Seattle’s Zeitgeist Coffee, Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race. After Ferguson, I began this series as a way of processing the rage and grief that I felt.

Using a large housepaint brush, I flung acrylic paint on more than 30 feet of raw canvas. Working in such a visceral, often violent way–and on such a large scale–was cathartic for me. Although the Action Painters of the ’50s used the same methods, they produced work that was largely apolitical (and most were Caucasian men). My work is firmly rooted in the discourse of racial disparity.

The first piece in the series is Denatured, a tribute to Michael Brown.

Denatured
Denatured, nailed to the wall at Zeitgeist Coffee, March 2015

Most of the other pieces use the same splatter method to represent the squandered lives that racism takes by force. The random patterns of the paint form tumultuous narratives of struggle, evoking bodies rent apart through physical or psychological violence, the disemboweling of entire communities, and the quest for liberation.

Race 2_FergusonRace 1

Race 3

The following pieces talk about structural racism, the bias written into institutions and systems in America. From the Confederate flag flown over Southern government buildings to racial stratification in housing, vestiges of white supremacist ideology are still present in our culture.

Race 5
If this reminds you of a penitentiary, then you’re on the right track.

Race 4

What does experiencing racism feel like? I can say from firsthand experience that you feel eviscerated, stripped of agency, and blinded to everything except the incident itself. Your perspective distorted and self-worth negated, you feel like sawdust or, worse yet, nothing at all.

But as an Asian-American, I have it easy compared to the struggles of the black community. According to writer Julia Craven, “To be black, specifically in America, is to be in a constant state of fear. There is no refuge. There is no escape. There is no sanctuary.”

Even so, you still get some wildly posturing, colonialist asshat like Rachel Dolezal, who commodifies Otherness (in the words of bell hooks) in the ultimate appropriative act of white privilege. As if race can be simply performed and adopted. As if we all had the luxury of that choice.

That’s why we have to frankly and openly address race in America–and run it ragged: understand its ins and outs, all its vagaries and gray areas. And then do something about it. From rewriting the policies and laws to subverting the dominant media narrative and its outdated tropes (see the Wall Street Journal coverage of Charleston for an example) to supporting communities of color.

This all takes thinking critically, listening carefully, and acting compassionately. Not turning the other way or pretending it’s someone else’s job. It’s our job because, goddamn it, it’s our world.

WP_20150307_010
Denatured (2015) and Code Switching (2012) 

My show, Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race, which opened at Zeitgeist Coffee two weeks ago, features abstract paintings from the past decade. Most of them took months, if not years, to complete. The one exception is Denatured (above, left), which was done in one intense sitting.

Zeitgeist 1
Pieces ranging from 2005 through 2010

The space
The two walls of the show space, seen together

Back in the mid-2000s, I began a series of monochrome paintings, called Epistemes, that flirted with epistemology, or the study of knowledge and its acquisition. The paintings’ stark black structures symbolized the mental constructs and girders that we hang our perceptions on. Here are some pieces, now being shown at Zeitgeist, from that body of work.

9-elegy
Interdiction, acrylic on 30″x40″canvas, 2005

The first of the Epistemes series, this painting arose out of the sound of constant construction outside our apartment for several years. (It’s no surprise that the structures resemble cranes and scaffolding.) I knew the painting was finished when it became a quiet, still sanctuary that I wanted to ensconce myself in. The piece has a bleak, elegiac quality that I find somehow comforting.

8-manchester
Superstructure, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2009

This piece was more of a struggle than the others and took about three years to finish. Here it is in an earlier stage:

manchester
(Gack! Not working.)

At that point, I realized that it needed more “oomph,” so I decreased the number of structures and fortified the ones that were left. I wanted an architectural majesty that would evoke the heroism of Franz Kline—who is an obvious influence on my work.

5-convergence
Convergence, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2010

This was another painting that took at least two years to finish. Like the others in the series, it features the conflicted interplay of black and white paint. If there’s one painting in the show that talks about the fractured language around race in America, it’s this one, with its ruptures and tenuous connections.

52-thin-years
The Thin Years, acrylic on 3’x4′ canvas, 2008

This painting is the only one whose name is less conceptual and more autobiographical. “The Thin Years” refers to the fact that, in beginning this piece, I realized the economy was tanking and my job was in jeopardy; therefore, I needed to save money by thinning my paint. The result yielded an open, airy painting with luminous spaces. The only problem: I was using a brand of cheap paint, and it felt like painting with seagull shit. The medium was oily and not even truly black. But still, it’s one of my favorite paintings.

Code Changing with patron
Code Switching (with visitor), acrylic on 30″x40″ canvas, 2012
Photo by Maria Martinez

This piece took at least two years to finish and was the first in the series to incorporate mixed media—more specifically, foil, paper towels, and a random swatch of cloth from my husband’s jeans. Code-switching is a linguistic term that refers to alternating between languages, or language styles, in a single conversation. As such, it’s a means of negotiating racial and cultural identities. Working in mixed media is its own form of switching between visual languages.

Denatured
Denatured, acrylic on 3’x5′ loose canvas, 2015

And then there is Denatured, which was a breakthrough that happened in January. Like in the Epistemes series, disconnects occur in the dialogue between black and white, except that the architectural structures of the earlier work become subsumed in emotion. This violent, uncontainable spillage echoes the volatility of racial discourse in America.

There were many ways to hang this piece, but I decided to simply nail it to the wall, which has an immediate, visceral effect. You could go further and read into Michael Brown (whose denatured body lay in the street for four hours) attaining a Messianic quality—I wouldn’t argue with that.

yoona-painting-02
A black-and-white closeup by Tim Prioste

In response to the cultural zeitgeist and my own identity as an Asian-American female, I feel compelled to continue in this direction. I need to use the language of abstraction to somehow express the messiness of race relations in the United States. So my goal for this year is to gain access to a large enough space to produce in and thereby work toward my next show.

Show information:

Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race | abstract paintings by Yoona Lee

Zeitgeist Coffee
171 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104
Mon – Fri: 6am – 7pm | Sat: 7am – 7pm | Sun: 8am – 6pm

Now through April 1.

My first apt_ptg
This is a painting I made in October 1998 of my first apartment in Seattle. I had left the East Coast for good, having dissociated myself from my immediate family, and resolved to start from scratch in a creative, progressive city. I was working two jobs, six days a week, and putting myself through night school in Desktop Production at the Art Institute of Seattle. The painting shows what I had back then: a camping cot to sleep on, cardboard boxes as tables, and some secondhand furniture I’d either picked up in the alleys of Capitol Hill or borrowed from my uncle, who lived on the other side of town. The floor was strewn with used books and paintbrushes I’d brought with me from Washington, DC. The painting itself was created using the five tubes of paint I owned (the primary colors plus white and black) on several small sheets of paper taped together.

It was a devastatingly lonely autumn for me. I rarely saw my uncle’s family or my one friend who lived at the far end of the city, and was disconsolate or exhausted—or physically sick—most of the time. On top of that, it rained for almost 90 days in a row, and the residents of Seattle smiled but nobody ever wanted to talk. Every day I could feel the city wearing me down like a carrot peeler would, shaving off fine slices of myself.

3-quarter-life
A self-portrait from 2000 called Quarter Life, done in that same apartment

When I think back on how hard I’ve worked for something, whether it’s attaining artistic recognition or carving out a life in this city, I get emotional. It’s hard to forget all the solitary evenings filled with bottomless longing and racked with self-doubt, the agonizing creative dry spells where nothing gets produced, the rapacious hunger for recognition and secret fear that it will come with its cruel, unforgiving gaze. You know, the typical life of an artist.

After the Wing Luke Museum solicited a piece of my art for their Korean-American show last fall, I found myself looking up one evening at the window of my first apartment in Seattle—a ramshackle Victorian building on Capitol Hill—and dissolved into tears. Trembling, I gripped myself in disbelief, feeling equal amounts of ecstasy and grief at the uphill battle it’s been.

Now a dream I’ve had since June of 1999 has come true. I finally have a solo show at Zeitgeist Coffee, a well-respected coffeehouse and arts venue in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. The Wing Luke Museum was a game-changer; I had professional business cards made and summoned up the gumption to invite the owner of the coffeehouse to have a look at my website. I was floored when he offered me the show. It had taken me 16 years of doggedly developing work—often spending years on a single painting—and paying my dues as an artist to get to this point.

During my lunch hour a few weeks ago, I went to Zeitgeist and picked up a cellophane-wrapped block of postcards promoting my show. My eyes grew damp as I held the stack, solid as a brick, in my hands. There, printed in the familiar template used by the coffeehouse, was my name and my work. It felt like this was what I was waiting for my whole life. In the in-between light of a Seattle winter day and the squabbling of seagulls in a historic part of the city, I felt elated and strangely light-headed.

Z postcard 1 Z postcard 2

Needing to return to my office, I hopped a bus that wound its ponderous way through downtown Seattle. Seated by the window, I caught glimpses of my former workplaces and apartments—all touchstones in my creative and personal development.

There was the Seattle Art Museum, where I’d started out in Seattle as an unhappy gift shop clerk (one of my two jobs back then); I met my husband at the loading dock in 1999 when we were working as museum security guards. Years later, he and I lived in an apartment across from the museum during its expansion and didn’t sleep for two years. The abstract paintings I’m showing at Zeitgeist emerged out of this time of insomnia and constant noise.

Zeitgeist blog post_SAM

Up the road was the Art Deco–era Seattle Tower, where I spent close to seven years working as a copyeditor at a design and branding firm while creating the bulk of my abstract work. During the recession, the firm hemorrhaged people, dwindling from almost 60 employees to around 8 by the time they laid me off. I sublimated a lot of my torment and fears into my paintings.

Zeitgeist blog post dwgs Sea Tower

Then we passed the hatchet-shaped Times Square Building, where I had reluctantly answered phones and poured coffee as a perennially malcontent receptionist at an architecture firm. It was there that I initially developed the visual language for the paintings in my show.

Zeitgeist blog post dwgs Times Sq

Just up the road, I could glimpse that first bleak little apartment building on Capitol Hill. That was where, as a nobody in this city, I resolved to stay and make a life here, no matter what it took. And, disembarking near my office, I remembered the first two solo shows of my work that were held a few blocks away, and how one was even reviewed in the print issue of The Stranger, a Seattle weekly paper.

Zeitgeist blog post dwgs Morris

The bus ride was a retrospective experience that made me realize how far I’ve come. But it also reminded me of how ephemeral art shows and public recognition are. When it comes down to it, the act of creating is what empowers and drives an artist forward. So once this upcoming show has passed, I’ll soon be laboring over the next piece of creative work. But hopefully there’ll come a time when I can look back again and feel a deep, almost debilitating, tremor of gratitude.

Here’s information on my upcoming art opening. If you’re in Seattle, I hope you’ll consider stopping by.

Disconnects: The Linguistics of Race—abstract paintings by Yoona Lee
1st Thursday, March 5, 2016, 6:00PM – 8:00 PM
Zeitgeist Coffee
171 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104

Show ends April 1, 2015.

UPDATE: My next show, Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America, opens at Ghost Gallery on May 12 and runs through June 5, 2016.

1-philomel
(This drawing, published in Philomel Magazine in 1997, wasn’t included–though it could have been, with its themes of gay/interracial relationships and AIDS.)

Last Tuesday, January 27, I presented some of my visual art at the juried Arts & Social Change Showcase, a booking conference that is part of the Arts & Social Change Symposium, in Bellevue, Washington. I was one of nine featured visual artists, who ranged in style and subject matter. In addition, there were 14 live performances, ranging from Guinean dance to Taiko drumming, held in the same room—which kept things lively (and loud). The event was attended by arts professionals, bookers and funders, including members of 4Culture, Washington State Arts Commission and other organizations.

I was surprised to find that much of the featured visual art was created by “diverse” artists but did not necessarily have a clear social message. My pieces were some of the more pointed there—no surprise when you include a drawing of a petroleum conglomerate’s CEO ejaculating oil. Then again, the event was organized around the idea of social change, not social justice. (Further clarification of this kind of terminology can be found here.) So I understand that showcasing artists of different ethnic backgrounds helps inform the public and shift cultural perceptions, which can contribute to social change.

I showed the following pieces at the conference.

2_Hostage

Atrocities V, 2001
Compressed charcoal on newsprint
18 x 24 in

The drawing above is part of a series on the ravages of war (which can be found here on my website). This and the drawing below, of BP CEO Tony Hayward, were published in The Slog, the blog of Seattle’s weekly paper The Stranger. You can see Jen Graves’ original post here.

3_BP Wet Dream
BP Wet Dream
, 2010
Compressed charcoal on newsprint
18 x 24 in

The drawing that follows was published as the cover illustration of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, an interdisciplinary journal that comes out of the Seattle University School of Law. It was a tribute to Robert Frank, whose unflinching outsider’s eye exposed the hypocrisies and existentialism of American life in the twentieth century.

 1_SJSJ cover

The United States of Inequality, 2010
Cover illustration for Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Fall/Winter 2010
Mixed media on paper
8.5 x 11 in

The next two drawings come from a conceptual collage series I created around racial politics and the minority experience. (You can find more here on my website.)

4_Infiltration

Slippage, 2012
Ink on canvas
10 x 8 in

During production, I poured Sumi ink through a slit in the protective plastic wrapping of a blank canvas to suggest the infiltration of the postcolonial “Other’s” perspective into a previously white canon.

5_Internment

Camp, 2012
Mixed media on bristol
14 x 17 in

Composed of shreds of black paper left on Scotch tape loops, Camp represents containment and internment, compromised identity, and the tenacity of survivors.

Overall, the work I showed at the Arts & Social Change Showcase elicited a positive response from viewers. It helped that the attendees and presenters were already thinking of how an aesthetic medium can be used to produce transformative social change. There are myriad ways to do it, and it will take me a lifetime to figure out the best, most generous way possible. But for now, I am taking one step at a time to get my work out there—both visual art and writings—to help effect some of these changes.