March 29, 2004
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Issue #3: Girl Power, Layers of Paint, and Familiar Subjects
An e-magazine published by Silicon Valley Open Studios.
Girl Power Turned Inside Out
Layers of Paint
Wayne Jiang, Familiar Subjects
Issue #3: Girl Power, Layers of Paint, and Familiar Subjects
Beyond the normal things one might expect to see in a printmaker’s studio – large flat files, suspended fluorescent tubes emitting white light with a buzz, and rolls of heavy paper – there are some surprising items in Kathy Aoki’s workspace. Strewn on her many craft-papered tables and about the diagonally planked wooden floor are polyurethane foam cast teddy-bears wearing hard hats and girly t-shirts; heavy equipment like table and jig saws; and toy woolen lambs, each with a brown paper accordian of clipart-like pictures dangling from its rear end. Such a collection of things might make one wonder just what kind of printmaker Kathy Aoki is!
In fact, she is not just a printmaker. Rather, Kathy Aoki is a multidimensional artist who uses a variety of media and art technology ranging from 3-D installations and computer animations to prints, artist books, and works on paper. The theme that ties these varied techniques together is a clever, ironic, and persistent questioning of gender roles. Her linoleum relief print Tip #72, for example, shows a 1950s-comic-strip-style drawing of a man vacuuming in an apron. The piece is meant to look like a magazine cover – Gentleman’s Housekeeping – and gives men a cleaning tip, urging them to put magnets on their vacuums to avoid sucking up tacks! Since standard gender expectations place women – not men – on magazine covers wearing aprons and vacuuming, Tip #72 initially strikes viewers as funny and then makes them think about the absurdity of stereotypical gender roles.
When asked how she got interested in gender-related expectations as an art concept, Kathy responded with matter-of-fact flair. “I was living in St. Louis with my boyfriend,” she began, “and we were both working full time, but I was still expected to do all the housework.” Thus, the Gentleman’s Housekeeping series was conceived, followed first by cartoon-like images of women with big power tools, and then by anime-style prints of super-women whose powers come not from magic, but from hard work and real vocational skills. Now Kathy is developing a body of work called: The Construction of Modern Girlhood, and it is from this series that Silicon Valley Open Studios Collection 2004 Judges selected three pieces.
Although the pieces – Teddy Harvest, Right on Schedule, and West Sorting Station – are each made from a different art process (multiple plate linoleum cut, linoleum cut with watercolor, and oil paint marker on paper, respectively), they go together, depicting the same saccharine colors, cute girl-bosses, and teddy-bear drones. As a group, the pieces narrate a scene in which the cute girl-bosses oversee the building of a giant platform shoe – a false monument to girlhood. They operate heart and flower studded construction machinery, scooping up teddy-bears (who represent innocent girls, not yet indoctrinated by the media), and turning them into slim, sexy, submissive workers. In this way, the Construction of Modern Girlhood series challenges the “girl-power” myth, shattering it with seductively charming but subtly sinister details, exposing “girl-power” as an insidious media construct.
True to Kathy’s comprehensive perspective, however, the Construction of Modern Girlhood offers a glimmer of hope for girls: beyond the foreground construction scene in West Sorting Station, a rebellious and questioning bear can just be seen escaping into the forest, shaking off her glitter and piercings.
Like the escaping bear, Kathy is a forward thinking, smart, and self-assured risk-taker. After completing her BA in French at Berkeley, earning her MFA in printmaking at Washington University in St. Louis, and securing a full-time teaching position at Vista Community College in Berkeley - with tenure in the works - she quit her job to devote all her energy to making art. The risk and hard work paid off. She now has pieces in several permanent collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Achenbach Collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Mills College, the Spencer Museum (University of Kansas), and the New York Public Library Print Room. She has had multiple exhibitions, publications, and citations; and is the recipient of over ten awards and fellowships in as many years.
Kathy is the second of her parents’ three daughters. Her mother and father, Sacramento residents, are both medical professionals and star supporters of her career. In fact, Kathy – new to Silicon Valley Open Studios – won’t be surprised if her mother shows up for the event this May at The Alameda Art Works, where Kathy has her studio, and where she learned about SVOS. Of the event itself, Kathy says she’s excited about the publicity efforts, and she expects it will yield a lot of visitors. Furthermore, she modestly admits she is really: “…Honored to have been picked for the Collection.”
Carolyn Shaw has always been interested in art. She remembers finger painting as a child and not liking it because there wasn’t any particular goal. But when she was in 8th grade, she had a wonderful art teacher who taught her about the impressionists and others like Van Gogh and Cezanne who were doing paintings that were outrageous for their time. Then there were Mexican artists who painted to get people to pay attention to social causes. Carolyn learned that art had meaning. She did lots of drawings in high school and was very good at it. Later, she taught a high school art class but did not feel she was as good a teacher as her high school teachers had been.
Carolyn grew up in Pasadena, California, and after high school, she moved to Berkeley to attend the University of California, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in art. While there, she was taught to paint in the abstract expressionist style.
However, as with many artists, art is Carolyn's second career. In college she chose to study library science and subsequently became a full time professional librarian. As a librarian, Carolyn not only read lots of books, but also was able to evaluate beautiful art books and children’s books which were inspirational to her. During this time, Carolyn kept her art alive by staying involved with the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society; she loved going out into nature with the group to do plein air paintings. She employed a variety of materials in her work, such as oil pastels, paint sticks, and acrylics, as well as watercolor.
When Carolyn retired from the library, she moved into her present studio and began focusing on her art full time. Carolyn's studio is in 1870 Gallery and Studios, an old school building in Belmont where several other artists have workspaces. 1870 Gallery gives Carolyn an artist community, as well as the chance to show her work in the cooperative gallery that the members keep open to the public. Every year, the 1870 Gallery participates as a group with Open Studios, and for the past four years, Carolyn has been part of it.
While Carolyn enjoys her time in the studio, the inspiration for her art comes from landscape and plein air painting. Carolyn has always loved landscape. As a child, Carolyn rode the train from Pasadena to Palo Alto where her grandparents lived, and she watched the landscape all the way. She says that in spite of all of the new development, you can still take the train and watch the landscape. Her painting, “Grand View” is a luscious early morning summer scene of a field covered with flowers. It will be included in the Collection 2004 exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art on April 22, 2004.
Carolyn’s landscape paintings are made in the tradition of plein air paintings where painters create artwork outside in the landscape. She usually creates her paintings using one thick coat of paint. This makes the works a bit cruder than her studio pieces, which involve first a thin under painting and then several additional layers, building a more refined surface.
Her technique captures something about the landscape that speaks to people. Each of her paintings depicts a unique spot in California where Carolyn has exercised her keen observation of the trees, plant life and land, translating colors, shapes, forms and paint onto the canvas creating lively works of art for people to enjoy. Sometimes collectors will commission Carolyn to do a painting of the California hills. Once, a collector saw a picture of one of her paintings in the Open Studios catalog and came straight to Carolyn’s studio and asked her to paint a scene of the Coyote Valley so she could take it back to Kentucky with her.
Horses appear every so often in her current paintings, all of which are landscapes. She loved horses as a child and drew lots of them. When she was in 4th and 5th grade, she and her friends used to ride their bikes to the Santa Anita racetrack, and they would cut some of the hair off the horse’s tails and make it into a braid. These were their little trophies. Carolyn thinks horses seem wise. One of her small paintings is a quiet scene with two horses peacefully eating grass in the foreground of a forest with a winding path between the trees. This personal painting is perhaps a part of her yearning for a horse as a child.
In the studio, Carolyn experiments with different surfaces for her paintings. Working primarily on oil on canvas, Carolyn sometimes gives her canvases a coat of rabbit skin glue before putting gesso on the canvas. This makes the surface smoother, the colors more luminous and the darks and lights richer. She says that if she puts an aspirin into the glue, it keeps it from developing mildew. Her techniques for creating her paintings are working to communicate a sense of the beauty of the California landscape. Says Juror Susan Hillhouse of Carolyn's Grand View painting, "The work has an authenticity that is apparent in the way the artist clearly imparts a sensitivity to the landscape."
Wayne Jiang paints what he knows. All of his subject matter takes place in and around the Bay Area, his long-time home. In his work, viewers will see images of his neighborhood, scenes from around his studio, and depictions of his family and friends. Ninety-seven percent of the people he paints are people close to him. Using subject matter close to him enables Wayne to study the infinite subtleties found in the familiar.
He divides his paintings into categories according to subject matter or color palette used, for example, night scenes, informal portraits, and California paintings. The night scenes are painted in chiaroscuro; their highly contrasting lights and darks render dramatic settings with tremendous depth. The dramatic images convey a serenity of a quiet neighborhood street. In spite of this serenity, however, viewers might not escape the underlying edgy feeling that comes from being alone on a dark street at night. In this way, the night scenes elicit a complex array of emotional responses. The informal portraits are all small format, three by three inches square, like candid snapshots they capture the character of the person. The California paintings show human interaction with the landscape. This group of paintings lets him to use his two favorite colors: white and green. Through his paintings, Wayne pays homage to the masters that came before him Rembrandt, Vermeer, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth.
Although he works in a range of sizes, Wayne prefers the smaller ones, as they tend to draw the viewer in and reinforce the intimacy of the scenes. To keep his perspective fresh, he alternates between small and large canvasses; and to challenge himself, he chooses odd sizes, as they don’t follow the traditional rules of composition. Taking chances with the composition is an important part of his work: when he uses one he hasn’t tried before, and the painting is successful, he feels that the work becomes visually exciting. The work-surface and medium Wayne chooses are also critical parts of his art-process. He works on both wood panel and stretched canvas.
Wayne has perfected his technique of painting with acrylics. His technique is so refined, that he can achieve effects most painters can only accomplish by using oil paint. He begins by taking photographs, which he later scans into the computer, manipulating compositions and fixing perspectives. Once he has made all the changes, Wayne draws the image with pencil onto his chosen work surface. He paints in a fashion reminiscent of the 17th century Dutch oil painters Rembrandt and Vermeer, combining their classic style with his contemporary subject matter. The painting “Hat,” is an intimate view of a family gathering. In his artist’s statement, Wayne writes: “My love for 17th century Dutch painters led me to utilize the glazing and layering painting technique. To achieve a rich translucent painting surface I apply thin washes of transparent or opaque paint on the surface. The multiple layers of paint on canvas serve as a metaphor for lushness of everyday life and the complexity of my subjects' emotions and relationships. “
To construct this metaphor, Wayne begins with yellow ochre, working from background to foreground, building up the warm tones with layers of burnt sienna and dark umber. Beginning with yellow ochre, he works from background to foreground and continues building up the warm tones with layers of burnt sienna and dark umber, applying gloss medium in-between each layer. After the forms are blocked in, he begins layering colored glazes. He limits his palette to no more than eight colors including white and black, a subtle reference, to the process of masters that came before him.
Wayne started painting ten years ago while studying graphic design and illustration at San Jose State University. As a student, he began exhibiting his work in small group shows. Now Wayne spends from four to forty hours a week in his studio at the Alameda Art Works, painting when inspired rather than using a set schedule. Alameda Art Works has been his studio location for three and a half years. In three of those years, he participated in Silicon Valley Open Studios (SVOS). He says SVOS creates the opportunity for stimulating interaction between the public and his art, and it affords him the chance to talk about his work in a friendly, casual setting.
Although he works full time as a visual designer at Adobe, Wayne still manages not only to paint regularly, but to play his guitar and ukulele too. SVOS visitors may be treated to his American folk and bluegrass music in the community atmosphere of the Alameda Art Works studios this May.