The American Show is inaugurating a new feature called “Three Questions.” We’ll ask artists, musicians, filmmakers, architects, and other creatives three questions and also show examples of their work.
Shizu Saldamando is an L.A.-based artist. Her work is striking and decidedly global. As someone who is of Japanese and Latino descent she embodies the mutability of racial, cultural, and sexual identity, something we see in her art. Saldamando’s use of color, her deft deployment of line, texture, and light are exquisite but it’s the mastery of technique combined with her subject matter that makes her an aesthetic progenitor in our current art context. We see boundaries crossed, gender bent, racial essence stirred and experience a truth that our eye is drawn to because of its beauty and fluidity. Her work will be featured in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition: “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter,” which will run from August 12, 2011 through October 14, 2012.
Here are Saldamando’s answers to our three questions.
1) Why did you become an artist?
Any career path usually involves a random accumulation of life experiences that bring you to that decision. I suppose maybe it was the only thing I could see myself doing day after day without developing a severe depression but now I’m realizing that everything can get old no matter what. It is how you approach what you do that makes it enjoyable or not.
Growing up, drawing was enjoyable to me and art was the only thing other people told me I was good at besides arguing. I was barely passing most of my classes in high school and barely passed my art class because I always turned in my work late. I knew the only way I could get into college was through art school and luckily the program at UCLA accepted me. After I got out of undergrad I started working at Self-Help Graphics (in East Los Angeles) as an office manager but was so horrible at it I ended up going back to school for my graduate degree.
Looking back on it, it wasn’t until I went away to an artist residency that I realized what a working artist was. I always just thought it was a hobby you did once in a while after your day job as an office manager or union organizer. I didn’t know you could actually just create art as your main job, until going away and seeing other working artists who traveled for their art, and spent most of their time working on their own stuff.
2) Who are your influences?
Wham, Boy George, Expose, were all big childhood influences along with the huge Zapata poster my parents had up in the living room (which I thought was a portrait of my dad for the longest time). Then in my teens came 90’s British pop, punk shows and cholo prison art. In college it was backyard parties in South East L.A., which I admit to never outgrowing. In my 30’s I’m starting to get into metal music. As far as visual artists go…Andrea Bowers, Esther Hernandez, John Valadez, Yreina Cervantes, Yoko Ono, Juan Fuentes, Barbara Carrasco, Sandra de La Loza, Ellen Gallagher, Alex Donis, and others, have all created work that has stuck with me one way or another.
3) What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a body of work for an Asian American portraiture show at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in the fall. Its different in that I actively sought out Asian friends to model for me but still ended up with pretty diverse pieces showcasing both Latinos and Asians and heavy on the butch representation.
David Eddington grew up in England where he attended art school and now lives and works in Venice, California. His work has been exhibited internationally. For Eddington, art is in the experience. He recalls one moment that helped define his vision. It happened while he was in Umbria, Italy, several years ago: “After exchanged pleasantries, taking the custodian’s key, crossing an adjacent field, unlocking the small Umbrian chapel and having the Madonna del Parto totally to myself. Seen in the pale blue light, it was more the perfectness of this early Piero della Francesca fresco, than its theological symbolism, the juxtaposition of the reds and greens, its aesthetic symmetry, that gave me an overwhelming sense of completeness.”
His own haunting work captures the strange baroque mood of Los Angeles. In “Administration Building,” Eddington brings the isolation, the silent brooding power and utter futility of our bureaucratic age into clear bleak focus. His works about the L.A. River are stunning testaments of civic decadence. As he says, “In these bridges, alongside industrial engineering and steel spans, there are glimpses of Versailles and ancient Rome – an illusion, enhanced by the destitute. It is easy to imagine oneself partaking in the middle-distance adventures of a Piranesi etching. I love LA moments like these.” With these works we are in the presence of steel, concrete, and arc in their bent and faded grandeur.
1) Why are you an artist?
The reason why I was almost not an artist was because I was that student who could draw anything; my guilt foolishly persuaded me to move sideways – priesthood was considered. From as early as I can remember being able to express myself with a crayon captivated me; I loved watching the marks arrive while moving my hand over the surface: yes, obsessive, and I still am. Fumbling attempts to recreate historical works that I loved, but couldn’t possess, even then I recall I was more interested in atmosphere, the mood the paintings projected, than the subject matter.
2) What are your influences?
The Central School, the London art college I attended, was a short walk from the National Gallery. Many lunch times found me in front of Veronesse, Titian, Giotto; still I play with those experiences. Now tempered by an ongoing contemporary dialogue, first Malevich, Philip Guston, then with significant artists and writers such as Keifer, Baselitz, Richter, and Proust, Leibniz, Thoreau. Closer to home, I also observe the painters Vito Acconi, Ida Applebroog, Mino Argento, Susan Rothenberg, and Karl Weschka. I follow artists who, like me, are more process-led; work which needs time, layered imagery that has play too.
3) What are you working on now?
My heroes at first pursue obscure lines of research, as my work is a way of discovering what I am really thinking. My search begins as near to my back door as possible. The series DWP (deposition of water and power) is ongoing; there is an overt political element in this series as in the concurrent Concrete Basilica. My blood is low in Vitamin D, but it flows fiercely when I mingle with the disenfranchised who have made their homes under the LA River bridges. Uncomfortable, or perhaps because of that, I spend considerable time on the concrete bed of the river. I feel at home there.
You can see more of Eddington’s work here.
Name: Kara Elizabeth Walker
City/Neighborhood: Wallabout, Brooklyn (soon)
What project are you working on now? Just finished a bunch of drawings and a video, and I have two shows opening this month.
What’s the last show that you saw? David Altmejd and Erik Wysocan (in the Project Room) at Andrea Rosen
What’s the last show that surprised you? Well, this is hard to say. The last time I got goosebumps at a big spectacle of a show was the Costume Institute’s “American Woman” show at the Met.
Why? It was so well done and populist in a way that many art shows are not.
What’s your favorite place to see art? Really nice to see people living with art in their homes, particularly when they have amazing passion and room enough to see and experience it.
Do you make a living off your art? Yes
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio? A large, forgiving flat surface and plenty of Olfa blades
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days? Archived editions of the Atlanta Constitution and documents from the National Archives
Do you collect anything? Not really, I have some art, but not a big collection of any one thing.
What’s the last artwork you purchased? I think it was a photograph by Deana Lawson called “Venus Dancer.”
What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery? About 25 totally cool black teens mixed in the crowd at Marina Abramovic’s show at MoMA. I foolishly thought that them being there meant her work had relevance to this kind of hip-hop generation. Later, of course, I discovered they were all together, part of a group visiting from Barbados. What’s worse, I had already told them I was “too busy” to meet that weekend, yet there we all were.
What’s your art-world pet peeve? Bloggers on the make at art openings; being the only black woman in the room at an opening of a non-black artist.
What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant? I don’t really have a regular place. I like Peasant downtown or 5 Ninth — cozy dark places.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine? Erratic, forgetful — I tend to not like to go out now on Saturdays like I used to because there are so many people I either know or who recognize me from somewhere. It’s embarrassing and I can’t enjoy the work privately.
What’s the last great book you read? Great book? Well, what about the last mediocre book? Most of what I have picked up lately has been so so or I haven’t finished…. I recently reread “Huckleberry Finn.” That’s a Great book. “The Innocents Abroad” is another, same author.
What work of art do you wish you owned? “The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer
What would you do to get it? I have been close to it — I curated a show at the Met. I would curate another….
Your Sikkema Jenkins show was “submitted ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker.” What is your doctorate in and where did you get it? My doctorate is in “Honorary” — I have two honors, one from my alma mater RISD and another from CCA in San Francisco. When I am working on work I usually change my “title” to reflect changes in my life (from Negress of Noteworthy Talent, to Missus K.E.B, to Madam, etc., now Dr.). Laugh, it is funny.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about? The Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD
Who’s your favorite living artist? That’s too hard to answer. Keep losing so many favorites….
What are your hobbies? Goofing off with an electric guitar, and dancing
When Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Director Jeffrey Deitch whitewashed
Blu’s image of coffins wrapped in dollar bills he joined a long legacy of mural and
graffiti censors in Los Angeles that probably started in 1932 when the city covered
David Alfaro Siqueiros’ famous America Tropical at Olvera Street. Blu’s piece and
the Siqueiros mural were both censored for their political content. Their imagery made
people uncomfortable so the walls were sterilized. I have to wonder if Deitch even
knows that “ America Tropical” was censored and why. Does he even care? But that’s
another story for another time.
For now, a few words on the “ Art in the Streets” show at MOCA. No, Mr. Deitch, street
art is no longer street art once it’s inside a museum or gallery. In 1981 the Craft and
Folk Art Museum put on a show called “ The Murals of Aztlan.” And the same could
be said for that show. The powerful muralism that stood for so much for the Latino
community during the rise of the Chicano movement became individual artworks ripped
out of context once they were “ captured” inside an institution. Same deal for the MOCA
show. You can’t bring the raw energy and sheer free expression that is global street art
into an institution and still label it street art. Maybe that’s why it’s called “ Art in the
Streets.” Yes, this is the hottest thing going in the art world. Almost everything else is
so boring. Well, now this can be boring, too. Sure there is some good art in the show but
where in the world, for example, is the whole street art history of Asco, etc. Banksy’s a
great showman but as his film Exit Through the Gift Shop showed us, the art world can
be conned. A lot of money is involved (Banksy is a millionaire or more) but there’s a
lot of money involved on Wall Street and in oil, too. So what? This show is basically a show about validation by the self-appointed arbiters of high culture.
In response, here’s a slide show of real street art from Barcelona. These photos (like the one above) were taken a few years ago but they still have their own power and rough charm. See the image that shows an artist in broad daylight painting his street art. The police in Barcelona just walked by. They didn’t see the artist as a vandal. He was part of life in the city. (The photos are courtesy of Katherine de Aragon.)
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