“She’s the next Maira Kalman,” Courtney whispers in my ear, “And if you don’t buy it I will.” We are standing in front of “Gossip Girls Selling Veggies on Mahabandoola Street, Yangon” and she is referring to San Francisco-based artist Chelsea Ryoko Wong who is currently in a two-woman show Hello At Last with Mia Christopher at the recently relocated Legion shop in Chinatown, San Francisco.
The piece is a celebration of women, food, and the marketplace. The colors shout out to passersby and the level of detail beckons the viewer to approach, to examine each slice of melon, each flower closeup. There is something about the vibrant scenes, flattened hierarchy and level of detail that are reminiscent of Persian miniature painting. Wong later tells us that she fell in love with this marketplace in Myanmar (Burma). “The women are the queens of the streets and you could tell they have the power,” her eyes ablaze when describing this scene.
I first met Chelsea when she dropped off artwork for #strikeawayshow a show of matchbook art which I co-curated with Courtney Cerruti in May 2015.
We fell in love with her work immediately and asked, “Um, can you make, like, six more?” “Sure!” Wong’s enthusiasm and easy-going nature make her a delight to work with. Later at the opening of Hello At Last, we see her play and gush when two little kids present her with a pink carnation. “Pink! Matches my bag, cute don’t you think?”
Another piece that called me in for a closer look was “Boys Becoming Novices, Going Forth.”
Its gentle visual rhythm evokes the chanting of monks. The white, simultaneously energetic and meditative, leaps off the paper. And again, those details! Tiny scissors, candlesticks, and incense conjure sounds and smells, a before and after, of the scene.
Whether her subjects recall faraway places or near, people you know or people you want to be, they are all a celebration of life and everyday people.
The show includes a mix of original artwork, prints and ceramics. The functional pieces, again a nod to food and domesticity, a playful boost to an otherwise quotidian object, are well-paired with Mia Christopher’s larger abstract paintings.
The show runs until 11/30. Curated by Alice Wu. On view at Legion Shop, 678 Commercial St, San Francisco, CA 94111. I encourage you to check it out! M-F 11-6, Sat 1-5, closed Sunday. Photos courtesy of Chelsea R. Wong and @ccerruti.