Archives for posts with tag: drawing

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

 

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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/

My heart’s been hanging at my knees, with the one-year anniversary of Ferguson and the controversy around the BLM disruption of Bernie Sanders’ visit to Seattle. There are feelings I’m finding hard to articulate right now—they exist only as a molten mass in my head—but I did convey some of them as abstract drawings on paper, using permanent marker and a very blunt pencil.

Divided ever
Divided Ever
Sharpie and blunt pencil

The past few days have reminded me that as whites and people of color, we live in radically different worlds. The ferment around Ferguson and the Sanders disruption has shown, with very few exceptions, the grievous lack of understanding we have toward each other. Our comprehension and empathy still hinge on social constructs, and this often creates an impasse, and enmity, between groups.

It pains me to see this kind of fracture happen, and I don’t know how else to talk about it beyond carving marks into paper with a blunt pencil (as in 90% wood, 10% graphite)—a study in impotence and a physical reminder of the emotional limits to our subjectivity. We say we support a movement outside of our experience but still remain ensconced in our respective paradigms.

There is a movement to emphasize that black lives matter. And there are many non-black allies, but how much do we really understand about being a racial minority without wearing it on our skin and seeing how it feels?

We cannot understand
How We Cannot Understand/Stand
Sharpie and blunt pencil

The drawing above came out of the hostile response to the disruption of Bernie Sanders’ talk in Seattle. Some of the most mean-spirited comments came from those who should be the best allies to the BLM movement, white progressives. It occurred to me that as different races with differing agendas in that moment, we could not understand, or even stand, each other. We simply cannot stand if we continue operating this way.

I’m frustrated by the impotence in racial discussions. We are bound by our limitations, so how can we unite and fight?

Scan 1
We Hate You/They Hate Us
Sharpie and pencil

There are allies out there with deep hearts and broad imaginations. These are the people who can help, and yet today I’m feeling discouraged, haplessly bound by my own skin and embroiled in conflicting, mutually uncomprehending discourse. I’m especially tired of hearing stubborn but futile attempts to analyze the Sanders situation. These are as effectual as a blunted pencil, whose insignificant marks cannot rival the deep, plush darkness of a brand-new Sharpie, a symbol of the stark and unyielding truth of racial inequality.

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/

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.

The Visitor

There are times when you want to forget it all: global upheaval, the structural inequality of America with its systemic racism, and all the myriad injustices that pervade 21st-century life. So how to escape and instead engage in the gentlest theft of all?

I do it by arming myself with a sketchbook and finding a scene, person, or object to document on a page, usually for a half hour or less. The process of capturing the lines and shadows of your subject—of stealing a small moment—is the best way for me to connect with the present. It feels meditative but also vexing; sketching is not an easy process, particularly in an unforgiving medium like pen, which can be as precarious as a tightrope act. (One stray mark can wreck a drawing.)

These quiet sketches are the underpinnings of my life. They are a validation of, and a reconciliation with, the world. In this way, they provide a tonic to the anger and revulsion I tend to feel toward current events. Sometimes what is in front of you is a marvelous event in itself. For example, a velvety midsummer peach.

G_The Promise

Or a reading woman visited by a sparrow. A scattering of autumn leaves on the sidewalk.

Harvest or Loss

A vanishing neighborhood.

Vanishing Capitol Hill

The mere practice of observing objects or people in detail is an empowering, enlightening one. It makes you realize, “Hey, look at this world around me—I’m so lucky to witness this beauty and to move amidst it.” Focusing on the micro makes the macro, as problematic as it is, suddenly and surprisingly worthwhile. The art that comes out of it is merely a fortuitous byproduct.

Snatching these moments is the only kind of thievery I know of that offers its own redemption.

In order of appearance:
The Visitor, 4×6 in, pen and ink, 2011
The Promise, 4×6 in, colored pencil and graphite, 2010
Harvest or Loss?, 2.75×3.6 in, pen and ink, 2012
Vanishing Capitol Hill, 2.75×3.6 in, pen and ink, 2014

All pieces are available, from December 11 through February 12, 2015, at Ghost Gallery in Seattle, WA.

 

 

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This past weekend I obsessively created sketch after sketch of a gouged-out bagel (note the insides have been scraped out), because it looked so demolished yet ruggedly beautiful. This exercise was an attempt at sublimating the horror and anguish I felt about the Fukushima radiation leakage. (If you’re not informed about this, then blame the media brown-out.)

In examining the bagel, I realized it looked strangely anatomical and geographical. It had its own topology, with calderas, ridges, and valleys. It looked like a ravaged landscape, like the world that we’ve poisoned. 

What rhymes with race? Debased. Whether that pertains to the Earth we’ve defiled or ourselves as corrupting agents, it is we (or rather, our corporations and governments) who are to blame for the Fukushima mess. We can do a whole lot better than this, and we sure as hell better–and fast.