Archives for posts with tag: Expressionism

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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Over the holidays, I laid a large piece of raw canvas on the floor of a friend’s art studio and slashed and hacked away at it with a housepainter’s brush. Sure, it was action painting—nothing nobody wasn’t doing in 1951 (wait, does that triple-negative still make a positive?). However, old methods can convey new messages, including one that represents the sweaty, immediate present.

This was the result:

Denature

Every single inch of the 5-foot-long canvas is affected; even the seemingly blank areas are activated by small splatters. In this way, this painting acts as a metaphor for race; that is, there is nobody in America that is not affected at this cultural moment by the discourse of race and difference. Ferguson was the watershed, the explosive catalyst. Eric Garner, like a wide receiver, carried the message farther.

I titled the piece Denature because it talks about how Michael Brown, and many others before and after, was stripped of his dignity–and all his essential qualities–as he lay bleeding in the street. It talks about the denaturing and pervasive effect of systemic racism.

Denature closeup
Hiccups and droolings of paint: Denature, 2014 (closeup)

Working spontaneously on a large scale was extremely cathartic for me; a lot of grief and rage bubbled out. However, as an artist, I was careful to follow up with methodical refinement. Right now this piece and another larger painting, titled 12:01 to Eternity (referencing the time Michael Brown was shot), are in an incubation period. I’ll leave them alone for a month or so before revisiting them for additional revisions. Because, as with emotion itself, time provides some perspective. But in the end, this perspective may only open up more questions than answers, not unlike race in America.

12PM to Eternity closeup
12:01 to Eternity, 2015 (closeup)

Convergence
For contrast, a painting from 2008, Convergence 

POC Power crop

I batted around many ideas for my submission to Art Bash 2014, the annual charity auction held by the American Advertising Federation in Seattle. The theme this year was “Throwback Thursday.” The Mona Lisa taking a selfie? Too glib. A stark horse skull remembering itself as a handsome stallion? A little macabre. Plus I’d have to incorporate a cartoony thought bubble, which seemed wrong. (But at the same time kind of awesome.) It all seemed like too much work. “Why don’t you just paint a nice picture of an apple or an orange?” my mom rather unhelpfully suggested.

I had just gotten a piece of my art into the Korean-American show at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. Ferguson was in the news, this time because of the unwelcome involvement of the KKK, which added its own vitriolic brand of fuel to the fire.

The goal of Art Bash 2014 itself was to level the racial playing field by raising money for the AAF’s Western Washington University minority students scholarship fund.

For these reasons, I felt like I needed to produce a piece defending and promoting minorities. And what better artist to exemplify the power of POC (people of color) but Jean-Michel Basquiat?

Though a controversial figure riddled with his own problems, Basquiat embraced a range of media to explore racial politics, class struggle, and street culture. His paintings emanate heat; his writings as a member of graffiti crew SAMO are epigrammatic and thought provoking. His photogenic presence graced indie film Downtown 81, cult TV program TV Party, and the New York City nightclubs as a member of art-rock band Gray. He was the real meal deal, and he didn’t last long. Whether by heroin OD or speedball, Basquiat died at 27, following a dizzying, meteoric rise to the top of the art charts.

BasquiatandWarhol

Basquiat: Polar opposite of Warhol, but a de facto heir (with the hair)

I found an image of Basquiat looking inscrutable and undeniably cool in his shades, and reproduced it within a couple of hours. Rather than try to imitate Basquiat’s graffiti-inflected style, I chose to create a portrait of him in the style of a street memorial mural. Those murals, found in any poverty-ridden neighborhood, may not be the most technically accurate depictions of the deceased, but they project heroism and an indelible soulfulness. I was also inspired by Sophia Dawson’s most recent mural, Every Mother’s Son–a tribute to minority mothers who’d lost their sons to police violence–on the Lower East Side.

To prevent my painting from being sold to some douchey, clueless art director who only knows Basquiat as some “badass black dude,” I added a few hashtags at the bottom (alluding to #TBT, the show’s theme): #radical and #pocpower. Obviously, the painting is welcome to anyone of any race, as long as they are familiar with the minority struggle. And yes, “POC” may be an in-group term used in racial discourse, but it precludes Basquiat from being hung like some mounted deer head in some dude-bro’s rec room.

Most important, the painting attests to the power of both sociopolitical firebrand Basquiat and people of color, especially the radicals. The still life with apples will have to wait until next time.

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Basquiat’s Exu (1988) may as well be a portrait of present-day Ferguson

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My earlier tribute to Basquiat, done in marker on a whiteboard at work